In Steinmeyer’s capable hands, Robinson becomes a walking, talking illusion and a reminder: never trust appearances when in...

THE GLORIOUS DECEPTION

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF WILLIAM ROBINSON, AKA CHUNG LING SOO, THE “MARVELOUS CHINESE CONJURER”

For a magician, William Robinson was a surprisingly indelicate man, detailed in this suitably beguiling portrait from Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant, 2003).

Though Robinson was to gain international notoriety as the Chinese conjurer Chung Ling Soo, he cut his teeth as a creator of magic tricks and as an assistant to such greats as Harry Kellar and Alexander Herrmann. Steinmeyer, a designer of illusions himself, is clearly taken with Robinson for his technical proficiency, imagination and originality; he’s also dexterous in handling Robinson’s convoluted life (although he isn’t especially impressed with this aspect of the man). Robinson was a philanderer, a secret sharer who had what amounted to three families at the same time, ultimately never giving much satisfaction to any of them. He engaged in espionage, shuttling tricks from one player to another, even stealing Ching Ling Foo’s great show from under him. One of Steinmeyer’s own neat tricks is explaining Robinson’s illusions in a way that doesn’t deflate the reader’s pleasure. Robinson’s work, from his black arts (so called because the careful adjustment of stage lights allows a black backdrop to dematerialize black objects in front of it) through the tricks from China that he managed to deconstruct into his own marvelous mechanical concoctions, are unfurled to let their hidden brilliance shine. Steinmeyer is equally captivating in tracing the changes in Soo’s image as seen by the public. At first, he fit snugly into the Victorian-Orientalist fantasy of old China. Later, he had to contend with the prejudice fostered by the Boxer Rebellion, an event that he dealt with in his “Condemned to Death by the Boxers” routine—a routine that would be the death of him—to demonstrate his loyalty. In the end, he showed how even a faux Chinaman could subvert the discrimination of the times through being honored as a Chinese artist.

In Steinmeyer’s capable hands, Robinson becomes a walking, talking illusion and a reminder: never trust appearances when in the presence of a magician.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7867-1512-X

Page Count: 336

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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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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