This straightforward, un-self-conscious memoir is set in Coalwood, W. Va., where the author was 14 years old in 1957, the son of the local mine superintendent. Hickam divides his life in West Virginia into two phases—before and after the October 1957 launching of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. Hickam Sr., a straight company man, despised the Russian Communists and saw his budding scientist son as a future mining engineer, but his son had other plans. After reading all about rockets in Life magazine, Homer Jr., a disciple of the esteemed US engineer and Cape Canaveral team leader Wernher von Braun, decided to build a rocket of his own. Hickam satisfies in his characterization of his rocketeer cohorts, including the brains behind the operation, the school nerd, whose jet-black hair “looked as if it had been plastered down with about a quart of Wildroot Cream Oil.” After several mishaps in town with their dangerous steel missile projectiles, the boys set up a rocket center on an old dump site and called it Cape Coalwood, complete with a cement launch pad and a “blockhouse,” or building for the rocketeers— projection, made of scavenged wood and tin. The author and his friends are adept at breaking things, including his mother’s rose garden fence and bathroom scale, but when they break the one-mile barrier in their launches, the entire town has to take them seriously. Hickam admits in an author’s note to having used a certain license in telling his story. This seems evident in its idealization of his mother and her near-religious insistence that her son not follow her husband into the mines. A simple small-town story of larger-than-life dreams, in the vein of Rinker Buck’s recent coming-of-age adventure, Flight of Passage (1997). Heavy on ’50s nostalgia, invoking song lyrics throughout and portraying the era’s inhibition of sexual relations among young people. (First serial to Life; film rights to Universal; Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour; radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-33320-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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