TALKING AT THE GATES

A LIFE OF JAMES BALDWIN

Furious life of James Baldwin (1924-87), coolly retold by a Times Literary Supplement editor and friend. Campbell makes it clear that Baldwin's strength lay in the essay but that he used the novel ``to change the language''-at which he failed. Aside from The Fire Next Time, his startling essay on race relations, it's hard to come away from this life feeling that Baldwin truly succeeded as a writer in any large way following his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. Baldwin never knew his father and was shocked in his teens when told that Harlem preacher David Baldwin was not his father. James himself became a Holy Roller preacher until he lost his faith at 17, then turned to novelist Richard Wright as his artistic father. The intellectual leader of any school he attended, he soon shot down Wright as a bumbler at prose but followed Wright's example by becoming an expatriate in Paris. At 20 or so, Baldwin was already writing for Partisan Review and the little mags. He early became what he called ``a drinking man''-which may account for the falling off and lack of focus in his work following his first novel. His second novel, Giovanni's Room, had no blacks in it but explored Baldwin's homosexuality. A world traveler, he tended, as Campbell shows, to swell later novels plotlessly, with pointless dialogue, purple patches. The Fire Next Time at midcareer was perhaps his last piece of work before abandoning careful writing for ``blues and jazz'' prose, a talky misfire that, coupled with demagogic hectoring picked up from the black revolution, did him in as an artist. Some bad jive from a soul brother could make him tearful; he was pursued by the FBI; he often went to pieces and had to rest up in hospitals. But many of his long, meandering works gathered power as they went along. Campbell tells all this with a friend's understanding. Even so. Baldwin snaps to life on the page only at times, as if standing at the bar and talking your ear off.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-670-82913-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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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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