A sympathetic telling of the life and death of an infamous convict and the ill-fated intervention of a famed writer.

JACK AND NORMAN

A STATE-RAISED CONVICT AND THE LEGACY OF NORMAN MAILER'S "THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG"

In 1979, Norman Mailer published The Executioner’s Song, a novel that narrated the life and death of Gary Gilmore, a notorious killer executed in 1977. Loving (English/Texas A&M Univ.; Confederate Bushwhacker: Mark Twain in the Shadow of the Civil War, 2013, etc.) offers the back story of Mailer’s fraught relationship with the murderer whose story was eerily similar to that of Gilmore.

At the end of his mighty book, Mailer acknowledged the “exceptional letters” from Jack Henry Abbott “that delineate the code, the morals, the anguish, the philosophy, the pitfalls, the pride, and the search for inviolability of hard-line convicts.” Abbott, who said he knew Gilmore, was also a coldblooded murderer imprisoned since adolescence, reared by a punishing government. Both prisoners raged against regulation, controlling “pigs,” fellow cons, and sniveling do-gooders. Gilmore had some artistic talent, and Abbott had uncanny literary skill, founded on sophisticated reading, including Baudelaire, Kierkegaard, Rimbaud, and Marx. Abbott surely sensed an ally in Mailer, who had famously stabbed his own wife. The convict’s letters cemented a relationship with the celebrated author, and Mailer was an important voice in gaining Abbott’s parole. Eventually, Abbott released his musings in the form of In the Belly of the Beast (1981), which became a bestseller. The morning before a positive review appeared in the New York Times, he stabbed to death a blameless waiter. He was soon captured and found guilty of manslaughter. His defense was “prison paranoia”—i.e., he was trained by the state to kill. Mailer pleaded for a brief sentence because of the killer’s writerly talent, but Abbott died in prison, perhaps by his own hand. In his forthright, if sporadic report, which could have used a chronology, Loving relies on research and the available correspondence between the famed writer and the clever convict, and he reveals the odd nexus of literature and penology, the meeting of art and criminality.

A sympathetic telling of the life and death of an infamous convict and the ill-fated intervention of a famed writer.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-10699-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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