Readers low and high will find this a winning companion, with excellent sources.

THE ESSENCE OF STYLE

HOW THE FRENCH INVENTED HIGH FASHION, FINE FOOD, CHIC CAFÉS, STYLE, SOPHISTICATION, AND GLAMOUR

An obsequiously titled but ultimately compelling study of the legacy of Louis XIV’s reign.

Once past the gloppy generalizations that try needlessly to snare the interest of nonscholars by dropping insipid anachronisms like “ladies who lunched” and “interior decoration’s ultimate bling-bling,” DeJean (French/Univ. of Pennsylvania) provides an intelligent, well-documented history of the luxury items taken for granted today that have also defined the culture of France. Essentially, the long, glorious rule of the Sun King, from 1660 to 1715, “unleashed desires that now seem fundamental” and inaugurated a program for redefining France as the land of luxury and glamour, often through a ruthless cornering of the market. As Louis’s obsession with style created the desire for fantastically luxurious goods, such as shoes, hosiery, diamonds and mirrors, his wily protectionist prime minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, worked with the business elite to ensure that France would become a mercantile superpower. The profession of the coiffeur, for example, seems to have been single-handedly invented by le sieur Champagne, whose unique touch with aristocratic hairdos instigated the first “brand recognition.” DeJean examines the important tool of the “fashion plates,” literally engravings, that served to advertise the luxurious new goods to the public, while Donneau de Vise’s newspaper, Le Mercure galant, became the first fashion organ aimed at provincial women dreaming of becoming as chic as the great ladies of Versailles. La Varenne brought butter and vegetables into the kitchen; cafes sprang up to serve the new coffee beverage and provide people with somewhere to go in a city newly lighted by state-of-the-art lanterns; and champagne, thanks to the tireless trial-and-error of the cellar master of Hautvillers, Dom Perignon, exploded on the scene. DeJean does a superb job of rendering comprehensible the new technology of mirror-making, while she relegates to a footnote, unfortunately, the ascendancy during this period of the classical French language.

Readers low and high will find this a winning companion, with excellent sources.

Pub Date: July 14, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6413-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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