A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart.

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EMPIRE OF SELF

A LIFE OF GORE VIDAL

An intimate but unblinking look at Gore Vidal (1925-2012), the gifted essayist, playwright, novelist, and public personality, who, for a time, seemed ubiquitous in the popular culture.

Poet, novelist, and biographer Parini (English/Middlebury Coll.; Jesus: The Human Face of God, 2013, etc.) met his subject in the mid-1980s, and he begins his chronicle with that encounter. They became fast friends as well as professional colleagues, though Parini continually reminds readers of Vidal’s often difficult personality. Petty, jealous, judgmental, and imperious—all applied to him. But so do others, as the author ably shows: Vidal was generous, brilliant, assiduous, and innovative. Like many other fine artists, Vidal worked until he could no longer do so. Parini precedes each chapter with a vignette, a focused memory from his own experiences with Vidal. They range from amusing to deeply moving. Parini is a wise general biographer of a literary figure. He tells us about each of Vidal’s major works (and the major reviews thereof) but never in prose choked with jargon or self-importance. The goals are exposition and elucidation, and he achieves them gracefully. Like other critics, Parini believes Vidal’s essays surpassed his other work. We learn some quirky details about the writer, as well—his fascination with Billy the Kid (and, later, with Timothy McVeigh), his fondness for celebrities of all sorts, his discomfort with academics, and his rivalries with Norman Mailer (with whom he reconciled) and William F. Buckley Jr. (with whom he didn’t). There is also a lot about Vidal’s sexuality (he preferred anonymous sex with male partners) and his drinking problems. Finally, the author examines Vidal’s sad decline and death. Parini uses detail in agile, unobtrusive fashion—though he erroneously reports that John Brown was killed at Harpers Ferry (he was hanged later in Charles Town).

A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53756-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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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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