An intriguing hybrid: part biography, part creative interrogation/reimagination of the life of an elusive Irishwoman who lived among the Aborigines in the Australian outback during the first half of the 20th century. How do you write a biography of a figure who relentlessly changed the facts of her life along the way, yet whose copious diary entries were full of intimate details about her sojourn among the Aborigines? Blackburn (The Emperor's Last Stand, not reviewed) attempts various literary and research stratagems—chief among them being her admitting that it is impossible to know much with certainty: ``Daisy Bates was a liar, of that I am sure, but the extent and the exact details of her lies remain a difficult territory for which no good maps have survived.'' As Blackburn's account of her attempt to uncover the facts about Bates gets interlaced with suppositions, false hints, and inconsistencies, the author more and more consciously identifies with her subject. We know Bates was given a government grant to study the Aborigines' customs, that she learned the language of the various totem clans, argued staunchly in the face of skeptics that they were cannibalistic, championed their rights to a large area undisturbed by whites, and lived with them in relative isolation for over 30 years. But even when the narrative goes from the first person of Blackburn as self-conscious biographer to the long central section in the reconstructed voice of Bates herself, we never learn too much about the relation of the Aborigines to Kabbarli (meaning grandmother), as Bates was called by them. Among the most fully pieced-together experiences are the ceremony in which she was made the ``Keeper of the Totems'' and the building of the transcontinental railroad through the Great Victoria Desert, which hastened the destruction of the land and the indigenous culture. A cryptic exploration into the avowedly subjective, murky terrain called biography, with occasional lyrical insights.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-42001-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?