Tight, intriguing and astute: Acocella is a critic with staying power.

TWENTY-EIGHT ARTISTS AND TWO SAINTS

ESSAYS

A hefty collection of profiles and essays centered around the question of what allows genius to flower in the face of often gargantuan difficulties.

The galvanizing force in an artist’s success is tenacity, concludes critic Acocella (Mark Morris, 1993, etc.), specifically “the ability to survive disappointment.” These 31 pieces—most originally appearing in the New Yorker, others from the New York Review of Books—reveal the author to be terrifically attracted to the underdog. She focuses her attention on under-appreciated women (dancer Lucia Joyce, Saint Mary Magdalene, author M.F.K. Fisher), Jews (Primo Levi, Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig), misunderstood artists and misfits (Frank O'Hara, Joan of Arc). Often her subjects were gay or bisexual. Vaslav Nijinsky, whose recently unearthed diary Acocella edited, seesawed between men and women; he gave his last performance in 1917 at age 28 before descending into schizophrenia. Marguerite Yourcenar didn’t write anything for a decade, living on an island in Maine with her devoted female lover, before finally producing Memoirs of Hadrian. Acocella’s obsessively detailed essays on dancers and choreographers are the book’s most enthralling. Among her subjects: Frederick Ashton, who molded Margot Fonteyn into his personal ballerina; Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine, who forged the modernist New York City Ballet; Balanchine’s muse Suzanne Farrell, who had to leave NYCB after she married someone else, but eventually found her way back; and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who survived his mother’s suicide by tumbling headlong into dance at age 12. Two entertaining essays are more general. “Blocked” examines writer’s block, and “The Neapolitan Finger” explores the Italians’ gift for talking with their hands. But the emphasis here is on iconic lives, and these beautifully researched (if rather formulaically organized) pieces provide riveting insights into the nature of creativity.

Tight, intriguing and astute: Acocella is a critic with staying power.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-42416-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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