Bongie’s essay is one among various new studies of Sade: Roger Shattuck’s Forbidden Knowledge, Octavio Paz’s An Erotic Beyond, and most recently ,Francine du Plessix Gray’s At Home with the Marquis de Sade. The “divine Marquis,” like some of the diseases featured in his novels, is not easy to get rid of. Throughout the 19th century, Sade and his pornographic novels were an underground phenomenon. Only in the 20th century did his reputation move into the realm of public discourse and legitimate publishing. Assorted modern commentators—from Guillaume Apollinaire to Camille Paglia—have hailed Sade as a free spirit, a courageous thinker, and a precursor of modernist attitudes toward sex, violence, and power. According to Bongie (professor emeritus of French, Univ. of British Columbia), the various biographers have uncritically cultivated the myth of Sade as a martyr to freedom of conscience. By contrast, Bongie seeks to deflate Sade’s overblown reputation. His scholarship is painstaking and critical, yet free of polemical bluster. Moreover, Bongie has managed to unearth a few new archival facts about Sade’s parents. The mother may be, he suggests, the key figure. Was she cold and aloof from his life, as the other biographers have supposed? Or did the callous and woman-hating son simply rebuff her as an inconsequential figure? Bongie conjectures the latter, though no conclusive evidence can be produced for either position. Bongie’s archival diligence has also brought to light a few fresh details about the debauched life of Sade’s father. Yet the upshot of his research is a negative finding: “we are still too ignorant of Sade’s basic biographical facts, especially those relating to his formative years, to hope to even begin “explaining’ him.” Still, he argues that based on what we do know, Sade’s life and works reveal a man remarkable only as an unprincipled opportunist, phony rebel, and self-absorbed devotee of predatory sexuality. A sober, scholarly, and skeptical exploration of the Marquis de Sade’s life and contemporary reputation.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-226-06420-4

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

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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 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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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