A rich and sweeping story superbly told.



A resplendent biography of the “most notorious writer of his day.”

There’s no shortage of books about the life of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), but this one might just dissuade others from writing another—if Leo Damrosch’s excellent 2013 biography didn’t already do so. (Stubbs acknowledges Damrosch’s achievement.) In this monumental biography, Stubbs (Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War, 2011, etc.) presents a classic man-and-his-times narrative, recounting in remarkable detail the complex life Swift led as an orphan born in Dublin who lived mostly in England but returned to Ireland in 1713 as a “reluctant rebel.” He was fond of saying that he was “stolen from England when a child and brought over to Ireland in a band-box.” Stubbs’ Swift is a practical joker who rarely smiled and possessed a “commanding, patriarchal air.” Drawing extensively on Swift’s writings and the histories of the time, Stubbs recounts the author’s upbringing by a “well-connected family,” fine education, and employment in England as a secretary for a retired diplomat, Sir William Temple. It was then that he met the young Esther Johnson, who would be his friend for life and help him deal with his life-long vertigo, tinnitus, and nausea. Stubbs disputes rumors that he secretly married her. While in England, Swift demonstrated his “power as a fabulist” and master satirist, penning The Battle of the Books and A Tale of a Tub. He begrudgingly returned to Dublin to serve as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he churned out anonymously written, scathing political pamphlets, the bleak and sardonic masterpiece A Modest Proposal, and Gulliver’s Travels, a “phenomenon.” Stubbs’ in-depth analysis of the vast cultural impact of Swift’s many works is impressive, as are his portraits of Swift’s literary acquaintances. This astute portrait of a complicated man who wanted to defend his homeland and to “vex the world rather than divert it” is truly masterful.

A rich and sweeping story superbly told.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-23942-3

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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