Lacks its subject’s wit and fire, but displays Johnson in all his grime and glory.

SAMUEL JOHNSON

THE STRUGGLE

A balanced view of the troubled yet triumphant life of one of literature’s and lexicography’s not-so-gentle giants.

Veteran biographer Meyers (Modigliani, 2006, etc.) sees Dr. Johnson (1709–84) not just as a powerful, pivotal writer but as a towering, overwhelming personality who dominated not just his associates but an entire era of British literary history. It didn’t seem to matter that he was ugly as can be. Born to a bookseller in Lichfield, Johnson suffered early from scrofula that left him facially scarred, as well as partially blind and deaf. A big man for his time, nearly six feet tall, he intimidated with his lancet wit and his looming physical presence. Meyers tells Johnson’s story in a gentle chronology, pausing to expatiate upon the rowdy, nonintellectual life at Oxford (where Johnson studied for a while), the nastiness of daily existence in 18th-century London and the contemporary literary scene. The author rarely hesitates to highlight the unpleasant facets of Johnson’s character: his temper, moodiness, peremptoriness, xenophobia, cruelty and careless hygiene. (The writer was grungy even by the standards of his smudgy era.) But he also emphasizes Johnson’s compassion, his opposition to slavery, his ferocious work ethic and his unrivaled intelligence. Meyers looks attentively but not too closely at Johnson’s publications, including his celebrated Dictionary of the English Language (1775), providing enough material to give readers a substantial taste but never to satiate. He is frank about his subject’s failures as a biographer, evident in the Lives of the Poets series, chiding Johnson for biases and insouciance about facts. Meyers chronicles with piercing poignancy the writer’s broken friendship with Hester Thrale and the losses of friends and health. Not as scholarly or as Dictionary-focused as Henry Hitchings’s Defining the World (2005), this capable portrait measures up nicely against Peter Martin’s equally solid Samuel Johnson (2008).

Lacks its subject’s wit and fire, but displays Johnson in all his grime and glory.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-465-04571-6

Page Count: 508

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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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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