PASSIONATE SAGE

THE CHARACTER AND LEGACY OF JOHN ADAMS

In a meditative and discursive essay (mostly about its subject's long retirement), Ellis (History/Mount Holyoke; After the Revolution, 1979) ponders the distinctive personality and achievements of America's endearingly cantankerous second President. While generally accorded a distinguished place in the pantheon of the nation's founders, John Adams has never been credited with the intellect of a Jefferson or the heroism of a Washington, and his presidency usually has been deemed an honorable failure. Ellis views this as unjust but points out a possible reason: Adams's pragmatic and pessimistic philosophy (emphasizing the limitations of America and the importance of tempering freedom with responsibility) was less moving than the idealistic, celebratory outlook of Jefferson and less appropriate to a young nation about to conquer a continent. Adams's rhetoric, moreover—at best plain and uninspired and at worst vituperatively argumentative—suffers in comparison with Jefferson's majestic prose. Ellis nonetheless makes clear that Adams has much to teach modern America, which has discovered limits to its power and is beginning to doubt the myths of American exceptionalism. The author's vivid sketch of the famous Adams-Jefferson correspondence shows his subject's delightful personality, intellect, warmth, and capacity for friendship, as well as his devotion to the Union and to the Federalist cause (which came to an end with the New England Federalists' support for secession during the War of 1812). Ellis comments ruefully on what he views as Adams's unfair relegation to second place in America's memory of its founders (a ranking that Adams himself anticipated), and he proposes that a statue of Adams be erected near the Jefferson Memorial so that, ``depending on the time of day and angle of the sun, he and Jefferson might take turns casting shadows across each other's facades.'' By focusing on Adams's retirement, Ellis doesn't achieve the sweep of a full biography—but he's able to capture the man's appealing spirit, providing new perspective on an unfairly neglected Founding Father. (Photographs)

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Pub Date: May 10, 1993

ISBN: 0-393-03479-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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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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