LIFE, ON THE LINE

A CHEF'S STORY OF CHASING GREATNESS, FACING DEATH, AND REDEFINING THE WAY WE EAT

One of America’s most decorated chefs relates the triumphal story of his culinary genesis and epic battle with tongue cancer.

The unlikely comma in the title of this 36-year-old’s memoir, seemingly choking off the subject before it’s developed, wonderfully captures the pivotal pause cancer forced the young chef to take during his meteoric rise in the restaurant world. Witnessed and told in part by business partner Kokonas, Achatz’s story begs comparison more with sports greats like Andre Agassi and Lance Armstrong, who famously surmounted gross physical challenges to reach the pinnacle of their careers, than with other culinary lions. While his untimely diagnosis with carcinoma of the tongue at age 33 may have compelled Achatz to share his story of life “on the line” with a mainstream audience, the bulk of the memoir focuses on the chef’s extraordinary culinary journey. From cracking eggs at age seven in his grandmother’s café, to opening Alinea in Chicago at 31, which was subsequently named the best restaurant in the country by Gourmet in 2006, Achatz writes that the great challenge of his younger life was matching the culinary achievement of those around him. “All of my life I was surrounded by success”—including his parents, who owned their own restaurant before they were 30, exposure to the uncompromising demands of Charlie Trotter and mentoring by the inimitable Thomas Keller. “The whole time I wanted to be as good as all of them,” he writes. “I knew the only way to come close to that was to do something different; otherwise, I would always be in their shadows.” With an unrelenting work ethic and crackerjack imagination that has yielded gastronomic gems like foie gras lozenges enrobed in bittersweet chocolate or lavender-flavored popsicles, not to mention a revolutionary approach to food preparation and presentation, Achatz has demonstrated success at achieving “different.” But what makes this memoir ring true for those beyond the world of the professional kitchen is the author’s understated rise to the challenge of his life-altering trauma.

Revelatory and inspiring.

Pub Date: March 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-592-40601-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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