A deeply informed investigation of a poet’s suffering and creative triumph.

ROBERT LOWELL, SETTING THE RIVER ON FIRE

A STUDY OF GENIUS, MANIA, AND CHARACTER

A renowned psychologist connects bipolar disorder to creativity.

MacArthur Fellow Jamison (Psychiatry/Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine; Nothing Was the Same: A Memoir, 2009, etc.) brings her professional expertise to an intimate, sensitive, and perceptive account of the illness from which poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977) suffered most of his life: bipolar disorder, characterized by violent mood swings, an illness from which Jamison also suffers. Drawing on Lowell’s medical records, Jamison closely examines the course of his disease and the various treatments—psychotherapy, electroconvulsive shock treatments, drug therapy—offered to Lowell as medical knowledge evolved. Mania has a long cultural and scientific history, which the author recounts in fascinating detail. Her focus, though, is on Lowell, who was first hospitalized in 1949; subsequent episodes recurred throughout his life, often requiring monthslong hospital stays. Lithium allowed him longer stretches of stability, but Jamison believes it dampened his creativity. Unfortunately for the narrative—and surely for Lowell—the onslaught and course of illness repeat the same trajectory: “the mind leaps; speech rushes; words ribbon out fast, unbidden, cutting. Ideas and schemes proliferate, alliances shift.” Lowell suffered grandiose delusions, hallucinations, religious mania, and impetuous love affairs, much to the dismay of his second wife, the writer Elizabeth Hardwick. Jamison offers chilling testimony of these episodes from Hardwick, Lowell’s friends, and his doctors, and she mines Lowell’s poetry and letters for his own responses. The author insists, as she has done in previous books, that mania corresponds to artistic brilliance and intellectual prowess; manic patients display “enhanced memory and originality”; biographical studies of individuals of “creative eminence” reveal a high rate of mental disorders; and students who perform exceptionally well in music and language “were four times more likely to be hospitalized later for bipolar disorder” than were average students. Similarly, records of 20 “socially important families” revealed that they were “saturated with manic-depressive psychosis.” Jamison argues persuasively that mania fueled Lowell’s poetry, but her celebration of psychosis seems to romanticize an affliction that she presents as devastating.

A deeply informed investigation of a poet’s suffering and creative triumph.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-70027-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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