An authorized portrait of the intensely prolific novelist as an artist and a person. As Oates's literary executor, fiction writer Johnson (Pagan Babies, 1993; I Am Dangerous, 1996; etc.) wisely uses his access to her presumably massive hoard of papers to develop relatively select themes important in her life. He traces her understanding of violence, for example, to incidents from her family's past; to Oates's schoolyard brushes with brutality in her rural New York hometown; to her mid-1960s stint in riot-charged Detroit; and also to several eerie, Rothian, and ominous encounters with fans and students. Her compassion for victims also originated, Johnson says, in her childhood, as did her devotion to ``memorializing'' her parents. But the strongest force animating Oates is doubtless her will to produce, displayed for decades in her famous literary profusion, resulting from a routine protected by a ``bourgeois'' lifestyle and stable marriage to the scholar and critic Raymond Smith. Intertwined with the biographical narrative, Johnson provides a blandly respectful overview of of the writers artistic growth, charted partly through the record offered in her journal entries. Throughout, Johnson heeds Oates's belief that biographies should be ``solidly grounded in fact''; the result is a full characterization of a multilayered, idiosyncratic woman. In fact, the book is so stocked with documentation that it sometimes goes over the top. For non-diehard Oatesians, this excess will be too much, reflecting the main drawback of nearly all biographies written by allies of the portrayed subject: a loyalty that tends to overstep its bounds. A more basic narrative problem is the relatively quiet life Oates has led, tame at least by the standards of literary lions. This life of talent dutifully plied, sustained, and rewarded offers less drama and excitement than any of the tales Oates has concocted in her fiction.

Pub Date: April 2, 1998

ISBN: 0-525-94163-0

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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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 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...


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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