An engaging, meticulously edited collection for all fans of literary biography.

A WHOLE WORLD

LETTERS FROM JAMES MERRILL

A self-portrait in letters by an iconic poet and indefatigable correspondent.

Hammer, a Merrill biographer and English professor at Yale, and Yenser, a poet, literary critic, and Merrill’s co–literary executor, have gathered a copious selection of letters by the acclaimed poet (National Book Award, Pulitzer, etc.), beginning with young Jimmy’s request to “Santa Clause” for a flashlight and continuing through countless letters to family, friends, lovers, and literary luminaries. The son of Charles Merrill, founder of Merrill Lynch, the poet had a privileged childhood: By the age of 12, he had seen 18 operas. But he grew up beset, he admitted, by “my sense of what others expected of me, and my shame over not being the person they wanted me to be.” At the age of 20, writing to his first lover, he confessed, “through you I have made the first assertion away from my family.” Still, he reported that their relationship precipitated “another long, quiet, strained talk” with his mother, who insisted that he see a psychiatrist. Many letters are ebulliently alive with gossip, such as Merrill’s delightfully catty recounting of a lunch hosted by publisher Alfred Knopf (“sniffing about in his chalkblue suit”) to celebrate the 75th birthday of a grumpy Wallace Stevens; guests included Marianne Moore, wearing a black tricorne (whom Merrill met there for the first time), W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun (“someone to whom I was never introduced,” Merrill noted), and Lionel Trilling. Many letters chronicle his affairs and long-term relationships. Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, Merrill reported on his health only to a few confidants. Amplified by the editors’ authoritative annotations, a chronology, and capsule biographies of major figures in Merrill’s life, the book creates a palpable sense of the poet’s wide, eventful world, “properly stuffed with culture and people,” travels, and accomplishments—as well as struggles and, inevitably, loss.

An engaging, meticulously edited collection for all fans of literary biography.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-101-87550-6

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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