Full of unexpected linkages and brightly written, this is an absorbing tour of the 20th century.

British quiz-show scripter Higgs (The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds, 2013, etc.) offers an idiosyncratic, always-provocative view of an era that many people would just as soon forget.

Yes, one plus one equals two. But how do we know? In part, it’s thanks to Bertrand Russell, who, on the evening that the 19th century turned into the 20th, scratched out a theorem “to prove beyond argument that 1 + 1 = 2 was not an arbitrary assertion, but a fundamental truth.” It didn’t quite work out, but within months, Albert Einstein would be reshaping mathematics, Sigmund Freud would be rewriting the rules of the mind, and the old verities would be overturned and overthrown one by one. The 20th century was a time of destruction, creative and otherwise; not for nothing does Higgs use a statement from Keith Richards as the tag line for his book: “We needed to do what we wanted to do.” From that declaration of independence, the author sketches out storylines that embrace art, culture, and commerce over a period that feeds directly into our own—and our own is strange enough, with respect to his title, as he observes when he notes that a recent brush with war in North Korea involved not just states, but also corporations, and foremost among them an entertainment corporation at that. “Strange,” in Higgs’ vocabulary, includes the domains of deviance and oddness but also a randomness that may not be entirely random. As he notes early on, the anarchist who inspired Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent may have had a perfectly rational reason for choosing a seemingly irrational target. While there is very little in this book that literate readers won’t have encountered elsewhere, Higgs crafts of disparate facts and anecdotes a story all his own.

Full of unexpected linkages and brightly written, this is an absorbing tour of the 20th century.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7710-3847-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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