For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.

CRANIAL FRACKING

A short, bumpy ride through the humorist’s dry, deadpan sensibilities.

Perhaps it’s comparing almonds to walnuts, but Frazier’s latest, a hit-and-miss foray into absurdist humor, is not in the class of his much-admired travel books. The author makes a few penetrating satirical stabs at contemporary follies and offers spasms of cleverness, yet too many of the three-page ditties are like underinflated balloons that fizzle out, and the savagely funny pieces only serve to underscore the collection’s overall unevenness. However, the idea of climate change in Hades (“The Temperature of Hell: A Colloquium”) is certainly delicious, and “In My Defense,” a survey of assorted heresies perpetrated by a scoutmaster who has lost his faith, is amusingly clever. There’s also a wry Shakespearean parody on the rigors of parking thy horse and some chuckles to be had with the title piece, in which Frazier sells the extraction rights to vast reserves of natural gas found in his head. When he is critiquing artificial intelligence or advocating for mummies in what is otherwise a golden age of zombies, the theater of the absurd is taken to brave new worlds—consider Jane Austen, “who featured zombies in all her exquisitely wrought nineteenth-century comedies of manners.” One can’t deny that great opening lines like, “I was walking down the street one afternoon, when I suddenly lost funding” belong in a pantheon of sorts, and the idea of Victor Laszlo writing a blog is amusing. Some may cock an eyebrow at the slyly witty “The British Museum of Your Stuff,” wherein larceny and scholarship go hand in hand, or enjoy Frazier’s exercise in anti-travel planning. But there are also plenty of misses, including “Etymology of Some Common Typos,” making this a minor work in the author’s oeuvre. For more substantial essay-length pieces, check out Hogs Wild (2017).

For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60307-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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