A grab bag, but one that repays reading and reflection and a pleasure throughout despite occasionally dark moments.

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THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED

ESSAYS ON A HUMAN-CENTERED PLANET

The bestselling author offers a miscellany of essays on life and letters in an environmentally fraught time.

Green, who admits to a certain amount of OCD, opens charmingly with a telling instance: It took him 30 days to create a path through the woods behind his Indianapolis home to reach a treehouse less than a minute away: “It took me a month to build a fifty-eight-second walk in the woods.” He might well have conjured the critic Morse Peckham, who once observed that a futile activity isn’t so futile if it puts off recognizing its own futility. It’s one of few bookish allusions Green misses in this pleasing book of essays personal and cultural. The author notes that we are at a moment when everything is rated thanks to the pernicious influences of Amazon and Yelp and such; Green calls a bout of labyrinthitis “an unambiguously one-star experience.” The ratings continue: He gives humankind a four-star chance of surviving the present era of mounting catastrophes, the Anthropocene. His register of references is far-ranging. Among dozens of other topics, he discusses Shakespearean evocations of clouds, the origins of the “pathetic fallacy” in the writings of John Ruskin, and the world’s largest ball of paint, which can be found not far from Green’s home. There are fine moments throughout, as when the author writes appreciatively of Indianapolis as a place he loves “precisely because it isn’t easy to love” or when he ponders the social basis of genius, by which artists such as Michelangelo flourished because others were making advances in the study of human anatomy and Julius Caesar “became a dictator because…over time the empire’s soldiers felt more loyalty to their military leaders than to their civilian ones.” In a treat for die-hard fans, each copy from the first print run will be signed by the author.

A grab bag, but one that repays reading and reflection and a pleasure throughout despite occasionally dark moments.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55521-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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 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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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