Rich in detail, plodding in pace. (24 pages b&w photos)


A lavish but sluggish life of the Sun King (1638–1715) by architectural historian and biographer Dunlop (Marie-Antoinette, not reviewed).

Dunlop begins by asserting that Louis was “one of the greatest characters who have played an important role on the stage of French history,” but he unfortunately expends more energy describing the scenery than either the players or the plot. His principal thesis is that Louis throughout his life indulged two passions—building and warfare. There are no novelties of narrative here: the first chapter contains an account of Louis’ birth; the last, a description of his death. In the intervening pages are very detailed (and often striking) accounts of his education, coronation (he was anointed with oil said to have been “brought by a dove from Heaven”), marriage, lovers (many of whom, quips Dunlop, subsequently exchanged “Louis’ bed for a cell in a nunnery”), intrigues, battles, construction projects, religious struggles, and medical problems (including an explicit account of the surgery to remove an anal fistula). The story fails to engage, however, because Dunlop has not found a swift narrative horse to carry the burden of the massive detail he has accumulated. Much of it is fascinating (e.g., the winter of 1708–09 was so cold that communion wine froze in the chalices), but it is more often decorative than propulsive. A further impediment arises from the decision to have no endnotes, forcing Dunlop to include in the text much peripheral information—e.g., preceding his account of Louis’ death is a long, dull paragraph on source material. Another dubious decision was to leave untranslated many of the French quotations. Dunlop is most interested in the remarkable architecture of the period, and his accounts of the construction of Versailles, the Louvre, and other structures bristle with confidence and competence. Describing the chapel at Versailles, he writes: “The bas-reliefs of the arcading on the ground floor, seen from the tribunes, give a delicate, brocade-like texture to the stone.”

Rich in detail, plodding in pace. (24 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-26196-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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

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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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