As provocative as it is amusing—an edifying journey through the mind of a major talent.

PROFESSOR AT LARGE

THE CORNELL YEARS

In this probing collection of essays and lectures given during his tenure as Cornell University's “professor at large,” Cleese (So, Anyway…, 2014, etc.) reminds us that his intelligence and wit extend well beyond Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.

The beloved British comic actor, writer, and director began his academic association with Cornell in 1999, when he was invited to serve as a visiting professor, holding forth on everything from The Life of Brian and the nature of religion to creativity, screenwriting, group dynamics, and physiognomy. He has continued guiding these scholarly workshops and classes flecked with humor for almost 20 years. This book assembles the best of them in a thoughtful, engaging way—at least to liberal thinkers—though the author sometimes succumbs to broad generalizations. Apart from his look at frameworks that fire creative energies, of particular note is his discussion of the dichotomy between the authoritarian impulse of organized religion and the liberating mysticism expressed by Buddhism. Cleese also offers trenchant (if familiar) commentary on political and cultural matters while relating much practical knowledge about film and TV, including the eventual demise of the Pythons. Although aspects of it are somewhat dated, movie buffs will savor a long, detailed, often eye-opening interview Cleese conducted in 2000 with respected screenwriter William Goldman—during which Cleese also recalls his experiences writing and performing in A Fish Called Wanda. In “The Human Face,” the author talks to developmental psychologist Stephen J. Ceci, and the two brilliantly explore the parameters of perception and recognition, with an illustrative aside on the “golden mean.” Cleese, 78, reveals a sharp but humane sensibility as well as a wicked sense of humor when it comes to human frailty. What surprises is the depth of his understanding.

As provocative as it is amusing—an edifying journey through the mind of a major talent.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5017-1657-7

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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