Six iridescent essays in lieu of an autobiography. Updike penned these luxurious self-examinations soon after someone informed him of a "repulsive" plan to write his biography. Although the pieces collected here will surely not fend off the multiple Lives to come, they do provide snug, friendly glimpses into the reflective mind of a writer abnormal in his normality (churchgoer, Democrat, cheerful participant at town meetings); they also confirm Updike's status as one of America's foremost literary stylists. In "A Soft Spring Night in Shillington," a tour-de-force of compressed memories, he walks through his Childhood while wandering his hometown streets one rainy night in 1980. "At War with My Skin" documents his lifelong struggle against that silver-scaled beast, psoriasis, and doubles as a celebration of the Puritan enclave of Ipswich, Mass., where he lived for over a decade, became rich and famous, and learned to swim in the "soft, pale-green ocean." "Getting the Words Out" dissects the author's difficulties with speech (he stutters), asthma, claustrophobia, and his redemptive love affair with writing. In "On Not Being a Dove," Updike discusses his ambivalence about the Vietnam War. The least successful essay, "A Letter to My Grandson"—too private to generate general interest—explores the genealogy of the "big, bumptious race" of Updikes. Finally, in "On Being a Self Forever," Updike longs for an afterlife, wonders "Where does the self dawn?" and asserts his lasting conviction that "the self's responsibility. . .is to achieve rapport if not rapture with the giant, cosmic other: to appreciate, let's say, the walk back from the mailbox." Self-probings—sometimes facile, sometimes dead-on—of a complex, funny, modest man, framed in glorious prose. A neat masterpiece of literary undressing.

Pub Date: March 18, 1989

ISBN: 044921821X

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1989

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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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