A great president, then, if with a few blemishes. Good reading for students of the office and the time.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

George Washington: a so-so general, at least at the start; a capable politician, even if he didn’t particularly enjoy pressing the flesh.

But a great president? This slender volume in Arthur Schlesinger’s American Presidents series, by political historian Burns (Dead Center, 1999, etc.) and revolutionary-era historian Dunn (Sister Revolutions, 1999), hints that some of Washington’s renown in that department has to do only with his being the first in the job. Yet, they add, Washington did much in office to recast the role of the chief executive as the energetic center of government, to the discomfort of contemporaries who believed that therein lay the road to kingship; his model posited “vigorous executive leadership, a flexible and resourceful administration, presidential rather than party leadership—a model that overrode the checks and balances without blatantly violating the spirit of the Constitution but that threatened to pulverize the opposition.” Other presidents have followed Washington’s lead to a fault, raising “formidable threats of excessive presidential power, as in the cases of a Lyndon B. Johnson and a George W. Bush,” but his legacy has largely been modified by the evolution of a two-party system that requires a little more teamwork on the president’s part. Burns and Dunn capably chart the course of Washington’s presidency, examining what they consider to be his successes (including the reshaping of the constitutional balance of powers) and failures (among them the polarization wrought by the Jay Treaty, which “left much that was precious to Washington—national unity, the common good, his own reputation—in tatters”). In the end, they fault him only gently for occasional missteps in office, notably his failure to act to hasten the end of slavery.

A great president, then, if with a few blemishes. Good reading for students of the office and the time.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-6936-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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