THE DIARY OF A NAPOLEONIC FOOT SOLDIER

As France's empire expanded during its postrevolutionary era, Napoleon began requiring vassal states to supply troops for his acquisitive causes. Among those caught in the conscription net was Jakob Walter, a young German stonemason who marched with the Corsican usurper's foreign legions on three campaigns (including the disastrous invasion of Russia) between 1806 and 1813—and who left an ex post facto memoir of his military service, which surfaced as a treasured family heirloom in America's Midwest during the Depression and was first published by the Univ. of Kansas in 1938. Human interest apart, Walter's stolid and narrowly focused account of his life as a soldier is longer on curiosity than historical value. Drafted in 1806, at age 18, to fight against Prussia, he was recalled in 1809 for a war with Austria and in 1812 when Napoleon moved his 600,000-man Grand Army into the heart of Russia. Walter's recollections of this catastrophic expedition, from which barely 25,000 returned, represent the longest and most absorbing portion of his narrative. Totally disinterested in the geopolitical implications of either the advance on or retreat from Moscow, the author bears oddly detached witness to the hardships and dangers endured by the bootless offensive's survivors. Nor did Walter much care about the outcomes of the battles in which he fought. Indeed, the main concerns of the author and his comrades seem to have been getting enough to eat in a country with few agricultural resources, avoiding crippling wounds, and returning safely home. Absent big-picture perspectives and contextual detail, Walter's recollections amount to little more than an intriguing footnote to 19th-century military history. The text includes an appendix with six unrelated letters home (unearthed by a Soviet researcher in 1978) from six Westphalian conscripts serving in the Grand Army, plus 20 b&w engravings (not seen).

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-385-41696-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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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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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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