PALM SUNDAY

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL COLLAGE

Is this "collage" of Vonnegut's occasional writings "a very great book by an American genius" (as he declares in a pretty hilarious mock-preface)? Or is it—as he goes on to suggest—a "blivit" (i.e. "two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag")? Well, it's neither, of course, and both fans and non-fans will find the Vonnegut they love or hate here. Starting out with a good strong polemic against censorship, he moves along to a moderately interesting family history—written mostly by his Uncle John, but spiced with highly Vonnegutian asides (about his grandfather: "This Albert Lieber, whose emotional faithlessness to his children destroyed the mind of my mother, along with prescribed barbiturates and alcohol, was a rich man's son"). Then come some college memories, a half-parodied "self-interview" for The Paris Review, and tributes to friends: William F. Buckley, Jr. ("I would give a million dollars to look like that"), Joseph Heller (a review of Something Happened), Irwin Shaw, Bob and Ray. And so it goes—with somewhat decreasing coherence—as Vonnegut includes Some commencement addresses; bits about his wives and children; essays on Twain, Swift, and CÉline; favorite songs (C&W tunes by the Statler Brothers); the introduction to a 1976 edition of Slaughterhouse Five (re Dresden—"One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in"). Plus—at his very worst—a sophomoric sf story ("The Big Space Fuck") and an even more sophomoric, campy musical version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Throughout, a few themes are repeated a lot—his freethinker beliefs, the need for extended families, the literary-academic world's phoniness—and there are one-liners and aphorisms galore. So, though Vonnegut is just about right in giving himself a "C" for this book overall (Cat 's Cradle gets A+), it's quintessential KV—wildly sentimental but hard and funny on the surface—and sure to please his fans while offering sporadic items of interest to others.

Pub Date: March 1, 1981

ISBN: 0385334265

Page Count: 341

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1981

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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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