Entertaining, intelligent and compassionate essays that provoke reflection.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

Phoning Home


In these essays, a noted bioethicist takes a thoughtful, wry look at his personal life as a way to touch on larger issues.

Appel (Scouting for the Reaper, 2014, etc.) is one of life’s overachievers: a physician, attorney and professional bioethicist, he also writes fiction, essays, opinion pieces and plays; his 2012 novel The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up won the Dundee International Book Prize. This strong volume brings together 13 previously published essays, in which Appel delves into his family history, childhood and other personal experiences, generally as jumping-off points for insights related to his medical, legal and ethical concerns. In “Two Cats, Fat and Thin,” for example, Appel spins an anecdote about stolen toys into a consideration of wealth, privilege, loss and changed lives. Should his parents try to get back Appel’s toys, which may have been stolen by a motel maid for her own son?: “Did I really want to yank [them] from his deprived little hands? Yes, I did.” Here, as in other essays, the author is disarmingly willing to consider his own shortcomings and misprisions. Several essays examine the role of history in family culture. His Belgian Jewish grandfather’s experience of anti-Semitism, for example, led him to adopt “Never, ever, stick your neck out” as a motto—which, Appel comments, is “probably good advice when you’re hiding from a mob of middle-class churchgoers lobbing stones, but my grandfather applied it universally.” Among the many thought-provoking pieces is “Opting Out,” which examines decisions around death and dying. Here, too, Appel mixes personal observation, family drama and his work as a physician to tease out difficult issues: “My grandfather had always said, ‘Where there is life, there is hope,’ which may explain—at least, in part—our family’s reluctance to withdraw care. But the unfortunate reality is that, where there is life, there is often false hope too.” Readers may not agree with every conclusion (“No acute sorrow, not even the death of a friend, compares with romantic rejection”), but they will understand how Appel reached them.

Entertaining, intelligent and compassionate essays that provoke reflection.

Pub Date: May 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1611173710

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?