Carefully researched and sensitively written. Essential.

EDEN’S OUTCASTS

THE STORY OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT AND HER FATHER

Neatly interlaced biography profiles a father of New England Transcendentalism and his bestselling daughter.

Bronson and Louisa May Alcott shared a birthday (November 29, 1799 and 1832 respectively) and died within 40 hours of each other in 1888. As Matteson (English/John Jay College) ably shows in his debut, their lives were inextricably intertwined, even during the occasional brief periods when they lived apart. After offering a snapshot of a low point in Bronson’s life, the 1837 auction of furniture, supplies and books from his beloved, failing Temple School, the narrative moves back to his birth on a Connecticut farm and proceeds chronologically thereafter. Young Bronson mystified his parents with his passion for reading. With little formal education, he traveled as a peddler before devoting the rest of his life to educating others—sometimes in schools, sometimes in lectures and “conversations,” sometimes in his writings. Matteson shows all facets of Bronson’s character: his fierce work ethic, his feckless financial ways (the Alcotts were perennially saved from ruin by the kindnesses of friends), his loyalty to his family. An early and ferocious opponent of slavery, he could be a remarkably clear thinker, but he was also clueless about his own foolishness and irresponsibility. Louisa, a tomboy with a temper, seemed at times the living refutation of her father’s genial theories about human development. In her childhood, she sat at the knees of Emerson, Thoreau and other Concord notables. While serving as a nurse during the Civil War, she became severely ill and was treated with a toxic, mercury-based medication that caused her much suffering and shortened her life. Matteson capably describes Louisa’s feverish devotion to her family and to her writing, the failures in love, the struggles to succeed that came to fruition with the publication of Little Women, her subsequent celebrity, travels and literary triumphs.

Carefully researched and sensitively written. Essential.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-05964-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

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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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