Unlikely to become another George Clooney vehicle.

George Clooney gave Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter’s The Monuments Men (2009) the Hollywood treatment; will anyone do the same for this survey of librarians and scholars and their activities with print materials during World War II?

Unlike the Monuments Men, Peiss’ (American History/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style, 2011, etc.) subjects did not operate under the aegis of one organization or agency and had more diffuse charges, ranging from procuring books and periodicals from Europe for intelligence analysis during the war and later gathering enemy documents and books of all kinds as the Allies swept across Europe, to figuring out what to do with Nazi literature and caches of Jewish books both holy and secular after it. Perhaps as a result of this attempt to gather disparate figures and missions together under the rubric of “information hunters,” the author rarely goes deep, instead delivering a reasonably well-written but nevertheless unfocused account of wartime book-related activities. Some of the figures—most prominently the author’s uncle, Reuben Peiss, a librarian-turned-agent in Lisbon—recur, but far too many appear for a few pages and are never revisited. Though Peiss makes copious use of her subjects’ letters, few of them emerge as distinct enough characters to carry their parts of the narrative. The dizzying occurrence of initialisms—R&A, IDC, CIOS, SHAEF, MFAA, LCM, etc.—serves to further distance readers from the events described. Some individual portions are fascinating. The discussion of postwar censorship’s role in the denazification of Germany has (sadly unacknowledged) echoes in today’s conversations about literature and culture, and Peiss movingly explores the dilemma of how to make restitution to a nearly annihilated people. Overall, however, the author shows herself to be a diligent historian but a poor storyteller.

Unlikely to become another George Clooney vehicle.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-094461-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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