Sermak writes of Davis’ tutelage, “she was training me for a world that was fading from view.” The author ably documents...

MISS D AND ME

LIFE WITH THE INVINCIBLE BETTE DAVIS

A chronicle of the last years of a cinema legend as told by her personal assistant.

Would anyone familiar with Bette Davis’ reputation as headstrong and independent be surprised to learn that she yanked out the bushes of a Long Island beachfront property she rented for a weekend because she didn’t like the way they looked? Sermak, co-executor of Davis’ estate, was a 22-year-old Southern California native in 1979 when she jettisoned a plan to pursue a career in clinical psychology and took a job as the 71-year-old actress's personal assistant. This book covers the years in which Sermak was Davis’ live-in assistant, accompanying her to film sets, cooking her meals, and staying by Davis’ side during and after the star’s 1983 mastectomy and stroke. (The author movingly renders these scenes.) Davis was as much a mentor to Sermak as an employer. She told her to change the spelling of her first name because “one of the big battles in life is to stand out from the crowd,” gave her lessons on posture, and even hired a butler to teach her the protocol for a formal dinner. One might have expected this book to be a hagiography, but, refreshingly, the author shows not only Davis’ kindness, but also her cruelty, as when she rudely declined a dinner invitation from Sermak’s mother. The author gets bogged down in extraneous detail, with rambling accounts of conversations and long descriptions of the meals she and Davis enjoyed. However, the book is a poignant portrait of an aging screen icon reduced to taking her medicine with swigs of Ensure Plus and struggling to live her life with the grandeur to which she had become accustomed.

Sermak writes of Davis’ tutelage, “she was training me for a world that was fading from view.” The author ably documents Davis’ growing realization that, long before her death in 1989, her time was already passing.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-50784-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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