A capable, decidedly revisionist work of history, coinciding with Garry Wills’s “Negro President” (below) and other...

AN IMPERFECT GOD

GEORGE WASHINGTON, HIS SLAVES, AND THE CREATION OF AMERICA

The term “Founding Father” is no metaphor, this account of Washington’s life and times instructs us.

Magazine writer and pop historian Wiencek takes the project begun with The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White (1999) a step further in time. Documenting the complex role of slavery in the late colonial and early republican period, Wiencek charts George Washington’s feelings about the subject, which evolved beyond the slave-trading days of his youth into an attitude not unheard-of in Virginia, but certainly unusual: the conviction “that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union.” The change of heart, Wiencek suggests, had several origins. One was the valiant service of slaves and black freemen in the Revolutionary War; when a group of Virginia slaves revolted 20 years afterward and were condemned to be executed, one nobly said, “I have nothing more to offer than what General Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put to trial. I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of my countrymen, and am a willing sacrifice in their cause.” A more personal cause may have been that Washington fathered children by slave women at Mount Vernon; Wiencek offers circumstantial but compelling evidence that the family of West Ford descended directly from Washington, and Ford had the unusual distinction of having been a landowner and the second wealthiest free black in Fairfax County at the dawn of the Civil War. Whatever the ultimate reason, Washington stipulated in his will that his slaves be emancipated and, Wiencek says, apparently regretted that he had done nothing to free them while he was in office, when “the effect might have been profound” had Washington set a precedent that the chief executive could not be a slaveholder.

A capable, decidedly revisionist work of history, coinciding with Garry Wills’s “Negro President” (below) and other latter-day considerations of slavery.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-17526-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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