IN THE CELLAR

Dick Tracy meets Jean-Paul Sartre in this deeply philosophical, deftly written account of the author’s 33 days confined in a cellar. Reemtsma (More Than a Champion: The Style of Muhammad Ali, 1998) is one of Germany’s leading intellectuals. On March 25, 1996, while walking to his office, he was assaulted, kidnapped, and later chained up in a cellar, where he’d spend the next 33 days awaiting a ransom hand-over. Reemtsma describes his horrific experience in a narrative that blends searing emotional honesty with an almost eerie intellectual detachment. Admitting his terror and utter powerlessness, Reemtsma subjects himself to meticulous self-examination. Seemingly trivial events, such as when the kidnappers take away his wristwatch, trigger philosophical musings: with a watch “you can focus your inner resources and conquer one hour after the other. Without a watch you are in a sea of time, out of sight of land.” The author’s intellect moves comfortably from Ludwig Wittgenstein to Sylvester Stallone, from American pop music to Renaissance art. Among other things, he uses his time in the cellar to examine the Cartesian concept of the individual and rejects it. He also considers the concepts of God, fate, and death. In a real sense, Reemtsma shared his dark cellar with the entire Western intellectual tradition. Yet the book contains considerable human drama, as the kidnappers try to elude the police and the author battles boredom and despair. When the initial efforts to hand over the ransom fail, the kidnappers threaten to murder Reemtsma. Finally, the ransom is paid, and the kidnappers drive him deep into the forest: “Car stops. Trunk opens. The thought again: Are they going to shoot me now?” He’s released, only to be swarmed by a ravenous press wanting to report his “feelings.” Reemtsma has written this complex book in part to confront those feelings. A relentlessly candid examination of one man’s heart and mind.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40098-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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