A compelling, profoundly emotional Nazi-era story that also serves as a reminder of the power of letter writing.

LAST LETTERS

THE PRISON CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN HELMUTH JAMES AND FREYA VON MOLTKE, 1944-45

The son and grandchildren of Helmuth and Freya von Moltke, anti-Nazi leaders, present the last letters their parents exchanged as he was awaiting trial in Berlin in 1944.

Their letters and the explanatory footnotes reveal a deep love bolstered by a building religious devotion. “These are love letters in extremis,” write the editors. “They testify to the profound openness with which Helmuth and Freya confront their fears, declare their love, articulate their hopes, and find faith.” Helmuth consistently demonstrated unwavering trust in Freya’s abilities, and their mental, physical, and spiritual devotion only increased as the letters continued. Both were attorneys, and Helmuth was conscripted as an attorney for the Wehrmacht in 1940. Both opposed Hitler from the very beginning, and their active resistance became known as the Kreisau Circle, a dedicated faction of Germans working to break with top-heavy authoritarian political tradition. They devised detailed political and economic plans for a postwar democratic Germany. In early 1944, Helmuth was unexpectedly arrested for alerting a friend that Gestapo had infiltrated secret meetings. At first, they expected him to be released—until the failed attempt on Hitler’s life that summer. Some of Helmuth’s co-conspirators were arrested in that plot, and the Nazis worked tirelessly to find a connection to him. Helmuth’s and Freya’s letters show their remarkable optimism and unvarnished grasp on the reality of the outcome of the trial. Eventually, Helmuth was transferred from Ravensbrück to Berlin’s Tegel prison. The chaplain at the prison, Harald Poelchau, was a Kreisau member, and he smuggled the letters contained in this book. Knowing the trial would likely end in a death sentence, Helmuth and Freya exhausted every political and social connection to find help. His family, descended from one of Prussia’s greatest heroes, was their strongest weapon as they worked toward a clemency plea. On Jan. 23, 1945, Helmuth was executed.

A compelling, profoundly emotional Nazi-era story that also serves as a reminder of the power of letter writing.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-381-2

Page Count: 380

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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