Fitfully funny, long on snark, short on substance.

EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH ME

A MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD GONE, WELL, WRONG

Blogger and “Internet quasi-celebrity” Mulgrew delivers a bumptious memoir celebrating his wildly dysfunctional—but fun—childhood as a nerdy kid in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood.

The author is the son of a macho, chain-smoking laborer who declined to stop partying even after suffering a broken neck from an ill-advised late-night dive into shallow water in one memorable anecdote. Mulgrew’s world was characterized by bookies, casual violence and rampant alcoholism, but his tone is light, even celebratory, as he lovingly details the outrageous personalities of the larger-than-life characters who populated his gritty neighborhood. The author failed to excel at such locally exalted vocations as athletics or hell-raising, so he threw himself into more quiet pursuits like selling illegal fireworks and hustling at video-hockey tournaments. Mulgrew documents his struggles with Catholicism, Little League, attracting girls and maintaining respect in an entertainingly hapless fashion, but the narrative fails to cohere as a fully dimensional portrait or offer much insight into the social and family dynamics that engendered such goofy behavior. Ultimately it becomes just one thing after another—random fights, drinking binges, mysterious stab wounds, trips to jail. One comic set piece stands out: a Scotch bonnet pepper–eating tournament that leaves its participants writhing in agony, leaking mucous and begging for water and ice cream. Mulgrew includes many embarrassing family photos to buttress his remembrances, and the affection he feels toward his wayward subjects is palpable. However, the author’s reflexively snarky, self-deprecating voice—typical of Internet quasi-celebrity bloggers—becomes tiresome over the course of the book.

Fitfully funny, long on snark, short on substance.

Pub Date: March 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-176665-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2009

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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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