Overall, a persuasive argument for reassessing the career of a neglected American writer.

A DARING YOUNG MAN

A BIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM SAROYAN

Novelist Leggett, a former director of Iowa’s Workshop, makes a convincing case that Saroyan was more complex and interesting, both as man and as artist, than his current reputation suggests.

When Saroyan died, in 1981, his literary reputation had been on the wane for years. Today, if he’s remembered at all, it’s most likely as the writer of sentimental tales of “little people” suffering through adversity and emerging with their faith in humanity intact. But, as Leggett makes clear, Saroyan was driven as much by anger as by sentiment. Born in Fresno, California, in 1903, the son of Armenian immigrants, he spent five years in an orphanage after his father died and his mother wasn’t able to support him. The memory of these early hardships, combined with the prejudice over his ancestry he was later to encounter in school, instilled in him a lifelong hatred of social injustice, but also a sense of self-reliance that often manifested itself as arrogance and a refusal to listen to anyone’s advice but his own. His early success only cemented his intransigence: he published a bestselling story collection at the age of 26 and a decade later had three plays running on Broadway simultaneously, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Time of Your Life. Later, he won an Academy Award for his screenplay The Human Comedy (which he later adapted into a novel). Unfortunately, these early achievements were soon erased by his own self-destructive behavior. He married and divorced the same woman twice, gambled compulsively, and quarreled with editors, publishers, producers, other writers, and his own children. Leggett’s portrait is sympathetic without being sentimental, and he has a novelist's eye for the telling detail. A more thorough discussion of Saroyan’s actual work would have been appreciated, however, as Leggett assumes a familiarity with it that many readers won’t necessarily have.

Overall, a persuasive argument for reassessing the career of a neglected American writer.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41301-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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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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