Leave it to Heller to have a bout with paralysis and death that brims with life and humor. The story of his struggle with Guillain-Barré syndrome—a rare, debilitating polyneuritis—is harmoniously co-written by the author of Catch 22 and the old friend who became his valet, secretary, business manager, and part-time nurse. The inscrutable fears and cosmic injustices in Heller's fiction here become real, but the account of his fall and resurrection, though frightening, is always hopeful, even joyful. The subject is not disease, but the good things in life: friendship, romance, freedom, Chinese food. Along with objective observations of his stubbornly disobedient body, Heller relates his efforts to pitch woo while paralyzed and tells how the disease became an issue at his unfriendly divorce proceedings. Throughout, Heller is witty and wonderful. Once a cheerful gourmand, he is reduced to taking all his meals through a tube. When a nurse offers to pour some champagne through his tube at New Year's, he passes in deference to his unwell body, noting "Besides, I never could abide the taste of any but the best champagne." Another of the frustrations of paralysis is not being able to bite one's fingernails. Vogel—former herring taster, former textiles executive, former sculptor—writes with clarity and humor, if with less stylistic bravado than his novelist buddy. The collaboration—done in alternating chapters, with occasional hilarious cross-interjections—is effective. Among other things, Vogel's candid appreciation of Heller's legendary grumpiness gives dimension to the story. Both authors would have us believe they were simply two men who didn't have any choice. Was Heller courageous in the face of his devastating disease? He notes sardonically that he couldn't have flailed his arms, beat the ground, or put a pistol to his head if he had wanted to—after all, he was paralyzed. Was Vogel selflessly devoted to his longtime buddy? Hell, he didn't have a job anyway, and he got to live in Heller's great apartment, wear Heller's clothes, sign Heller's checks, and even take out Heller's girlfriend. Their literary collaboration is just as fortuitous. Heller is sharply observant and amusing, even in a hospital bed. Vogel is a character, and handy with anecdotes. Beneath its sarcasms, then, an enjoyable, life-affirming account of friendship and courage.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1985

ISBN: 0743247175

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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