Although he knew Ben Shahn, had access to his papers, and spent many hours interviewing his widow and adult children, Greenfeld’s biography remains curiously dispassionate. Maybe the biographer was only guarding his objectivity; after all, he felt a strong affinity for the artist. The two men met in the 1960s, and Greenfeld spent time with Shahn in Paris, New York, and New Jersey, Shahn’s home. Perhaps frustrated by the artist’s loss of reputation in the years following his death, Greenfeld—who has also written about Caruso and Puccini—undertook the biography as a means of foregrounding —one of the most significant figures in the history of twentieth-century art.” Certainly Shahn was one of the most controversial. He made his career at a time when visual art offered an undisputed potential for political impact, and he invariably infused his art with his pro-union, liberal ideals. As a result, his work was condemned time and again for its political content by religious leaders, politicans, and even by the trustees of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. However, Shahn was not easily intimidated; he was a brash person, and his work benefitted from his strength of character even when his relationships suffered. Rather than allow that complexity into his portrait of the artist, though, Greenfeld only glances at Shahn’s personal betrayals with evident distaste. As a result, the biography begins to pull apart: At one level, it carefully tracks Shahn’s professional progress from lithographer’s apprentice to New York painter, FSA photographer, and famous muralist. At another, it offers only a sketchy emotional trajectory of the man who abandoned his first wife and family and subsequently sabotaged numerous other people. The coexistence of Shahn’s political idealism and his emotional ruthlessness isn—t explored fully. Greenfeld’s hesitation to expose the man compromises the book and its subject. (40 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-41932-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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