A rangy collection, sometimes insightful, uneven, and occasionally unsettling.


Beard returns to creative nonfiction.

“Something happened to her while she was eating, or right afterward. She began turning in circles and couldn’t stop.” This is the opening line of the first piece, and it may take readers a few moments to realize that “she” is a dog. This sense of disorientation serves the piece well. Brief and heartbreaking, “Last Night” details the decision to euthanize a beloved pet, and anyone who has struggled with this choice knows that uncertainty is part of what makes it so difficult. One might assume that this vignette is personal, but the piece works without a biographical hook. The question of genre is significantly more complicated in “Werner,” the story of a man who escapes a tenement fire by diving from his apartment through a window in the building next door. The protagonist, Werner Hoeflich, is an actual person, and the author fleshed out what she learned from him with details of her own creation. The result is both gripping and meditative. Beard’s ambiguous approach is more disturbing in “Cheri,” which recounts the last days of a woman with terminal cancer who died with the assistance of Jack Kevorkian. This story was also based on interviews, this time with the protagonist’s daughter, but Beard has said that much of her piece is pure invention. In a 2011 Bookforum article, Beard said, “If I called it fiction, pretended Cheri Tremble was a figment of my imagination, it wouldn't be interesting to readers, and if I treated it as journalism and wrote just facts, it might have been mildly interesting to readers but not at all interesting to me as the writer.” Readers can make of that what they will, but the resulting piece lacks the immediacy of “Werner,” and it’s possible that trying to honor fact while indulging in fiction is part of what makes this piece feel ungainly. The rest of the essays vary in style, substance, and quality.

A rangy collection, sometimes insightful, uneven, and occasionally unsettling.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31649-723-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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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 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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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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