NOW AND THEN

FROM CONEY ISLAND TO HERE

The author of Catch-22 and five other novels looks back on the Brooklyn streets that spawned his twisted sense of humor. It somehow seems appropriate that a comic sensibility as acerbic and astringent as Heller's should have arisen a few blocks from America's most famous amusement park, Coney Island. The first half of this memoir, which is about his childhood, is surprisingly warm and elegiac, burnished with a golden air of nostalgia that is seldom found in his other writing. Heller's family dynamic was an odd one; his father died when he was only five, and his older siblings were the products of their father's earlier marriage. But despite a lack of blood ties and a nearly 15-year gap between Heller and his big brother and sister, this slightly skewed family unit was apparently loving and supportive. The Depression was, as he makes abundantly clear, a good time to grow up in Coney Island, a time when kids could roam the streets safely into the night, when ethnic and racial strife was relatively subdued (at least as a young boy perceived it), and he clearly made the most of it. The book's first chapters are redolent of summer days on the sand and punchball in the streets, the awkwardness of growing into adolescence with its many mysteries. With the coming of age that accompanies working lifeHeller's first job as a Western Union delivery boy came when he was 16the book turns every bit as sardonic as his best fiction, and it remains thus for his recounting of his experiences of work, wartime, and early struggles as a writer. Essentially a series of essays linked by leitmotifs of food and mortality, Now and Then is graced with a self-deprecating humor that contains a certain spikiness but also suggests that Heller would be a good guy to have a few beers with. (A sequel is promised within the pages of this volume.) Knowing, winningly funny, and engagingly bittersweet.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-40062-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

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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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