Adroit essays from the two-time Man Booker Prize–winning novelist.

From the late 1980s, Mantel has contributed reviews, essays, and memoirs to the London Review of Books on topics that range from Madonna to Robespierre, from playwright John Osborne’s “ferociously sulky” memoir to the cult of the Virgin Mary, and including a hefty dose of the Tudors. Interspersed with the essays are ephemera: brief letters to the journal’s doting editors, especially Mary-Kay Wilmers, to whom Mantel once confessed having “critic’s block”; postcards, emails (her own email address is redacted); and covers of the LRB that announce her contributions. The collection, then, serves as much as a display of Mantel’s shrewd eye and stylish prose as a testimony to her long, fruitful association with the LRB. Her reviews are capacious, erudite, well informed, and exacting. “To accept an untruth, to assent to a lazy version of history, is not just negligent but immoral,” she writes in praise of Charles Nicoll’s book on the death of Christopher Marlowe. Likewise, she sees in historian John Demos’ work about a woman taken captive by Mohawks “an exercise in scrupulous scholarship and imaginative sympathy.” Admitting a “penchant for regicides,” malice, and a bit of gore, Mantel has been drawn to books on the doomed and the damned: Marie Antoinette, Jane Boleyn, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Helen Duncan, a woman condemned for witchcraft in Britain in 1944. Besides being a revelatory examination of class, desire, and the phenomenon of spiritualism, Malcolm Gaskill’s book on Duncan, Mantel writes, “is also in a wider sense an inquiry into ‘how we know the things we know’ and how what we can know or choose to know is circumscribed by our culture.” That inquiry, of course, underlays her own forays into the past, including her memories: first meeting her stepfather, living in Saudi Arabia for several years, and suffering hallucinations after protracted recovery from surgery.

A captivating collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-00-842997-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Fourth Estate

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.


A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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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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