An uncommonly auspicious debut.

THE CORRESPONDENCE

The debut collection by an essayist who writes like a rattlesnake, his sentences coiled yet always ready to strike with venomous impact.

One gets the sense that Whiting Writers’ Award winner Daniels is belatedly coming into his own and exercising some distinct literary muscle. These essays are presented as—but not necessarily written like—letters from the author to himself, and they could pass as fragmentary notes for a memoir or another much longer and more unified work. Not that this slim volume of six pieces doesn’t work on its own; they have a cumulative power that can leave readers devastated. Though “Letter from Majorca,” about his seafaring experiences after he abruptly “quit the university after shouting at a student until she began to cry,” has earned distinction by inclusion in Best American Essays 2013, others are even stronger. Perhaps the best is “Letter from Kentucky,” which found Daniels returning home on a magazine assignment but realizing, “it’s an old story. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh: you go back to the place but the place isn’t there anymore.” His spare, elemental prose conjures old haunts, old hurts, and old friends who are dead or are in prison before he goes deeper into a meditation on his father, whose “aim was to protect me from the darkness all around us, using the darkness inside himself.” Following this is the extraordinary “Letter from Level Four,” in which the author meets a man who is plainly mad and does his best to avoid him but also sees himself in him. He reflects on his own “brief stay in the hospital,” where “all of this, they told me, was reality. There are no other worlds than this one. There isn’t even this one.”

An uncommonly auspicious debut.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-53594-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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