AMERICAN ELEGY

A FAMILY MEMOIR

An engaging if ultimately somber 200-year history of a family and the rise and decline of the small Pennsylvania town that was their home. Journalist Simpson (The American Family: A History in Photographs, 1977, etc.) culled generations of daybooks, family stories, and histories to record the public lives and private longings of his relatives in a once proud railroad town called Parnassus, located east of Pittsburgh. It officially ceased to exist in 1931. Simpson uses a variety of homely talismans to reconstruct generations of family history and psychology: An 18th-century Indian captivity narrative mirrors his mother's lifelong feeling of oppression; an ankle bracelet tells the complex story of a thwarted love. By showing the unwavering adherence of his grandparents to the failing town, and to the 19th-century standards of family life and citizenship it represented, he is able to demonstrate how his relatives and their hometown became so deeply interconnected. Pittsburgh figures in the narrative as well. There are archetypal American elements in the history of that brawling city: immigrants, industry, union strife, and larger-than-life characters (Carnegie, Mellon, Frick). Simpson touches on these vivid elements but concentrates on the impact of the nearby city on his family, and he finds in the modest details of their lives a clear reflection of the larger American experience. By focusing on the end of the family and not harking (as do memoirists like Donald Hall and Annie Dillard) to the immutable cycles of nature, he loses a chance for solace, but in doing so maintains the integrity of his work. When the family dwindles to its last mortal member, there is no comfort—only Simpson's knowing reflection that ``they had gone as far as they could go,'' because with him, a homosexual, ``the end of the line had come.'' Uncomfortable in its finality, direct but not always graceful in style, this book is best read as the fulfillment of a final descendant's lifetime obsession.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94122-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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