No major revelations or strong stylistic appeal, but an affecting self-portrait of a plainspoken, good-natured Englishman...

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

A LIFE IN LETTERS

A triple-decker helping of hitherto unpublished letters, mostly to his mother, by the man who hated to be known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle (1859–1930) led a life more varied and eventful than any of his fictional heroes. Trained as a physician, he struggled for years toward literary success before achieving it overnight in 1891 with the Strand’s publication of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Apart from producing a great deal of other writing—humor, fantasy, science fiction and the historical novels he hoped would be his most enduring legacy—he married twice, stood twice for the Parliament, was knighted for his defense of England in the Boer War, lost several close relatives in World War I and publicly embraced spiritualism in the last decade of his life. No one, however, would consider him a great letter writer. Although the editors have trimmed numberless accounts of his health and finances, many more remain, along with sales figures for his books and details of his public lectures. Occasionally Doyle’s invincibly prosaic style is eloquent. More often, the letters glow with the deeply rooted good nature and good sense of Holmes’s amanuensis, Dr. Watson, whose personality, on the basis of the evidence here, owed a great deal to his creator’s. Doyle’s letters to his mother are always affectionate but never intimate. Yet she clearly offered him the ideal audience for his reflections—after she died in 1920, no correspondent took her place, and the editors gloss over his final years in a few pages.

No major revelations or strong stylistic appeal, but an affecting self-portrait of a plainspoken, good-natured Englishman whose type has passed into history.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59420-135-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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