BUFFON

A LIFE IN NATURAL HISTORY

A dry yet thorough life of the Enlightenment philosopher and naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (170788). Buffon was, according to the late French historian Roger, a man who loved money, power, and women, and who acquired all in great quantity through much intrigue. Yet Roger drops the scientist-as-James-Bond frame almost immediately to recount at great length the intellectual ferment of the time—and that is far from an exciting read. Roger presupposes of his readers a background in the life sciences, and he writes fluently of Buffon's contributions to the nascent theory of ecosystems, to embryology and mineralogy, and even to theology. Roger also turns up a few lesser achievements, among them Buffon's invention of a ``burning mirror'' that would focus sunlight on flammable objects, a mad scientist's dream come true. (Buffon never put this weapon to use, but his method of constructing concave mirrors is still used today.) But too much of Roger's text is given over to discussing the minutiae of Buffon's arguments with other scientists (in which Buffon was often wrong) and not enough to analyzing the significance of his discoveries and theories. Roger also bows rather too deeply in the direction of psychohistory. ``What is striking today, more so even than Buffon's daring or his mistakes, is his inability to realize his ambitions,'' he writes. ``Was he scrupulous in his methods or lacking in his imagination?'' Roger never really volunteers an opinion, although he treats us to innumerable episodes of Buffon's wrestling with many demons. More detailed explication of Buffon's real contributions to evolutionary theory—Roger rightly points out his influence on Darwin—and other sciences would have been welcome in the place of so much emphasis on his shortcomings, for no scientist's work remains current for long. (28 b&w illustrations, 2 tables, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8014-2918-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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