The tedious format only occasionally dulls the author’s sharp descriptive and analytical skills.

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

The author of Don’t Know Much About History and similar titles returns with a sometimes-saucy handbook on the American presidency.

As is the case with other formulaic volumes, this one can weary readers determined to journey through its many pages. After his introductory material on the Founding Fathers’ debates about the nature of the presidency, Davis focuses on each of the presidents, in order, offering subsections like “Fast Facts,” “Administration Milestones” and “Must Reads” (including online sources). He also awards an old-fashioned letter grade to each man. Scoring well are Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Reagan; scoring poorly, an assortment of pre– and post–Civil War executives (Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson—all get failing grades). Davis gives Incompletes to those who served briefly for various reasons (William Henry Harrison, Garfield). In recent times: Clinton gets a B; Bush II, F. The author has found interesting nuggets to scatter along the trail—Buchanan was the first to publish a memoir; Hayes established the White House Easter Egg Roll; McKinley was the last president to have served in the Civil War—and he takes time to explain key historical issues, from Teapot Dome to Watergate to Whitewater to Obamacare. Davis occasionally flashes an attitude, taking a shot at one of Michelle Bachmann’s campaign claims about the Founding Fathers and slavery, noting several historical antecedents for our recent financial meltdown, blasting Bush II for Iraq and other messes, and reminding us that President Obama came into office facing problems equaled only by those greeting Lincoln and FDR. These are not positions that will prompt waves of Republicans to purchase the book, but substantive appendixes add both heft and interest.

The tedious format only occasionally dulls the author’s sharp descriptive and analytical skills.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2408-7

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

Did you like this book?

more