C’est la vie, or something like it; you’ve got to admire the philosophers’ energy. A fascinating rejoinder to, and sometimes...

TÊTE À TÊTE

SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR AND JEAN-PAUL SARTRE

A neatly assembled record of people behaving badly in the name of literature, philosophy and amour.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, existentialists par excellence, were the Heloise and Abelard of their day—as correspondents and mutual confessors, anyway, for their relationship did not result in any mutilation save the metaphysical. As biographer Rowley (Richard Wright, 2001, etc.) notes, they prided themselves on telling the truth about everything, acting as witnesses on the world’s behalf in repudiation of bourgeois conventions; they would live freely, would never submit to expediency or authority. The truth of their lives, as might be expected, is much less immaculate: As Rowley dutifully records, page after page, even as they took pains, as quasi-spouses, to keep each other informed about their every emotion and thought, they were decidedly more guarded in revealing matters of the flesh. That Sartre was short and ugly in his own self-description, and lived on a diet of amphetamines, whiskey and cigarettes, did not keep him from attracting a succession of young paramours; elegant, even aristocratic, de Beauvoir had the same luck drawing partners, male and female alike. Her partial treatment of the truth (and airing of the parts that she wished) so embittered one lover, Nelson Algren, that late in life he complained savagely, “I’ve been in whorehouses all over the world and the woman there always closes the door. . . . But this woman flung the door open and called in the public and the press.” Meanwhile, Sartre strung along his enchanted “acolytes,” as he called them, including the young Algerian woman he would adopt as his daughter. His secretary once asked how he managed them all. “In some cases,” Sartre answered, “you’re obliged to resort to a temporary moral code.”

C’est la vie, or something like it; you’ve got to admire the philosophers’ energy. A fascinating rejoinder to, and sometimes corrective for, de Beauvoir’s Adieux.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-052059-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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