“I have written about crime because it illustrates more clearly than anything else the contrasts that form the basis of...

QUICKSAND

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HUMAN BEING

Diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life in 2015, the creator of the Kurt Wallander mysteries (An Event in Autumn, 2014, etc.) casts an impassioned eye on life and death.

Readers looking for either a narrative autobiography or a memoir of the Swedish novelist’s last illness will need to adjust their expectations. What Mankell offers instead is a commonplace book in which memories of things he’s seen or felt over the past 60 years inspire fiercely philosophical ruminations. Mankell retrospectively decides to date the onset of his fatal illness, which he likens to a pit of quicksand, to a car crash he walked away from a week before he first noticed the pain in his neck that sent him to the doctor. He likens cancer therapists to the fraudulent psychic Uri Geller. He recalls examples of appalling cruelty he saw in Budapest and Maputo. He speculates about the biological foundations for the different reasons men and women get jealous, and he confesses how troubled he is “that I shall be dead for so long.” Although Mankell’s reflections are deeply personal, readers will learn little about the details of his life because he remains resolutely extroverted, a keen observer of the world whose illness encourages him to take the long view. He describes the future ice ages climate scientists have predicted for 10,000 years, 20,000 years, and 60,000 years from now and repeatedly returns to the dim prospects for the Earth and its people, who have come to depend on the integrity of systems to dispose of nuclear waste that is expected to remain dangerously radioactive for 1,000 centuries.

“I have written about crime because it illustrates more clearly than anything else the contrasts that form the basis of human life,” writes Mankell. After digesting these piercing intimations of mortality, readers will suspect that some subjects illustrate those contrasts even more clearly.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-43215-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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