A slow retracing of the roots of one of America's earliest—and most racially diverse—families.

Winch (History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; A Gentleman of Color, 2003, etc.) explores real-estate tycoon Jacques Clamorgan's rise to prominence in St. Louis in the late 18th century, as well as the entangling aftermath of the land and children he left behind. “This is a tale about money, land, power, and the nation's obsession with race,” writes the author—all of which she explores within the single Clamorgan family line. The family was full of colorful characters, such as the biracial Apoline Clamorgan, the daughter of Jacques, who employed sexuality as a tool for her own advancement; and Louis, Apoline's son, who used his street smarts to become “a man of prominence” throughout St. Louis. Of the many branches of the twisted family tree, the story of Cyprian Clamorgan, Apoline's youngest son, proves most captivating. Though he easily passed for a white person, his primary power was unrelated to race, but in his ability to swindle. Cyprian's varied schemes pegged him as a notorious fraud who regularly spent time in the courtroom, earning a number of enemies along the way. Yet perhaps the most engaging aspect of the Clamorgan story isn't what the family was, but what they might have been. Winch notes that if Jacques's vast land claims had been recognized, St. Louis might be called Clamorganville today. Likewise, with the proper schooling and connections, the gun-toting, scheming Cyprian might have become a governor or a “leading African-American writer, challenging the nation of the post–Civil War to examine anew its understanding or race.” A tale well worth telling, though the stilted pace may limit the book’s appeal to general readers.


Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9517-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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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

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