A satisfying recollection of a literary life well-lived.



An esteemed novelist offers alternately wry and haunted ruminations on a life of literature and intrigue.

In his 80s, le Carré (A Delicate Truth, 2013, etc.), the author of espionage-themed bestsellers and a Cold War–era member of British intelligence, seems keenly aware that his life blurs into his fiction. In this memoir, in which he pointedly uses his real name, David Cornwell, the author acknowledges the difficulty of teasing biography from a life devoted to novel writing. “Pure memory remains as elusive as a bar of wet soap,” he writes. “Or it does for me, after a lifetime of blending experience with imagination.” He avoids strict chronology in favor of a loose, episodic structure that outlines his work’s real-world influences and allows him to consider his evolving views on patriotism, geopolitics, the lives of writers, actors, directors, and rogues (specifically his con-man father), and other topics. He offers nuanced looks at unnerving times, especially regarding his intelligence work in West Germany; he argues that the soft reception given ex-Nazis fed leftist terrorism by young Germans decades later. Le Carré captures the creeping crises of the Middle East via the pursuit of a cagey Yasser Arafat, which inspired his novel The Little Drummer Girl: “After Arafat, anything else feels normal.” Similarly, the author contrasts his experiences in perestroika-era Russia with the robber-baron 1990s. He wonders, “were the new crime bosses the old ones in new clothes?” while expressing rueful nostalgia for his old-school adversaries. “I met two former heads of the KGB in my life and liked them both,” he writes. Le Carré also thoughtfully captures the tenor of his friendships with many luminaries (Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Joseph Brodsky) while soft-pedaling old animosities (with the exception of traitor Kim Philby). Yet for all the cinematic glamour of le Carré’s experiences, reflections on the workaday realities of fiction writing may provide the most engaging aspect of this colorful valediction.

A satisfying recollection of a literary life well-lived.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2077-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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 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...


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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