A valuable addition to the biography of an underrated literary figure.

DASHIELL HAMMETT

A DAUGHTER REMEMBERS

Biographies of famous writers by their offspring usually have modest literary value, but this memoir is a cut above the rest.

Hammett’s best-known novels, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, pioneered hardboiled detective fiction, and many critics consider him a literary master. His life was chaotic. Discharged after WWI because of tuberculosis, he married his pregnant nurse and struggled to earn a living in a series of jobs from Pinkerton detective to advertising copywriter. Within a few years, however, he began to write fiction, quickly developing his distinctively spare style. His first novel, Red Harvest (1929), enjoyed great success. A year later, The Maltese Falcon was a smash hit. In 1931, he met playwright Lillian Hellman, his companion for the rest of his life. By now he was living apart from his family, ostensibly because of TB. But he continued to support them when he could, visited often, and remained a generous, affectionate father. The ’30s were Hammett’s golden years. Money poured in from royalties and film sales. Never one to plan ahead, he spent it even faster. When he enlisted during WWII, the Army, suspicious of his leftwing politics, assigned him to the American equivalent of Siberia: the Aleutian islands. He enjoyed his stint immensely, however, editing the base newspaper and writing the official history of the Aleutian campaign. After the war, his life went downhill. He emerged from six months in prison for defying the HUAC to the blacklist. The IRS claimed most of his income. His health declined, and when he died in 1961, he hadn’t completed a novel in over two decades. Though the author undertakes no extended analysis of her father’s works, she candidly relates his drinking, gambling, womanizing (Hellman comes out surprisingly well), and attraction to Communism. As a bonus, her account is packed with family photographs, clippings, and mementos.

A valuable addition to the biography of an underrated literary figure.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7867-0892-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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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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