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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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