Breezy, informative, and wholly enjoyable.

BALLAD OF THE WHISKEY ROBBER

A TRUE STORY OF BANK HEISTS, ICE HOCKEY, TRANSYLVANIAN PELT SMUGGLING, MOONLIGHTING DETECTIVES, AND BROKEN HEARTS

Journalist Rubenstein debuts with a wild tale of true-life folk hero Attila Ambrus, who lost his innocence in post-communist Hungary as he and the nation grappled with the demands of capitalism.

The evolution of Attila Ambrus from janitor to the beloved “Whiskey Robber” (so called due to his penchant for getting stinking drunk before carrying out his capers) was slow, but in hindsight practically inevitable. Raised in Romania, where discrimination against ethnic Hungarians like himself was widespread, Ambrus at age 21 risked his life to cross the border into Hungary, clinging to the underside of a train car, only to be treated as a hopeless country bumpkin by his new fellow citizens. The Hungarians were mostly occupied, however, in figuring out how to negotiate the new economy as their country raced toward Western-style capitalism while corrupt officials and business people found new ways to embezzle millions at the expense of the common man. In this unwelcoming climate, Ambrus somehow had to land a job. A disastrous but gutsy tryout led to his employment as a janitor for the hockey team UTE (Ujpest Gym Assocation), but it didn't pay quite enough to make ends meet. Legitimate opportunities were scarce, so when the chance arose to smuggle some pelts from Transylvania, Ambrus made it work. From there it was no great leap to robbing a post office, and once that was done, it was easy to do it again. By the time he was finally apprehended, the nonviolent, unfailingly polite bandit had captured the Hungarian public’s heart as a gentleman crook in a country where corrupt captains of industry who had stolen far more than he went unpunished. The author makes abundantly clear his delight in Ambrus’s odd history, energy, and circle of friends; never was there a more entertaining case history of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

Breezy, informative, and wholly enjoyable.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-07167-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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