A vigorous, lucid biography of perhaps the most influential thinker of his day, with plenty of juicy gossip about his...

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU

RESTLESS GENIUS

Thoroughgoing life of the often disagreeable, uncharismatic and world-transformative philosopher, he of “Mankind is born free and is everywhere in chains” renown.

The French edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s complete published works runs to 10,000 pages, though Rousseau, characteristically, wished late in life that he had not written a word. As Damrosch (Literature/Harvard Univ.) shows, anyone who had known young Rousseau would not have bet on his becoming world-famous in his own lifetime. Rousseau, Damrosch writes, was the motherless son of a Geneva watchmaker—no disqualification, for, as an 18th-century thinker noted, the artisans of the city “were fond of reading the works of Locke and Montesquieu” and were in many instances thoroughly radicalized. Rousseau’s father spirited away a good bit of the inheritance that was supposed to one day be the son’s, and when he remarried, Jean-Jacques presciently went out the door to seek his fortune on his own. He proved a poor apprentice though a sometimes helpful servant, and he insinuated himself in a few noble households while pondering what to do next, one observer volunteering that the best he could aspire to was “becoming a village priest.” Rousseau chose another path, devouring a few libraries with the hungriness and half-method of an autodidact, then unleashing a torrent of words on the world of the dawning Enlightenment. One of the chief virtues of Damrosch’s always virtuous biography—apart from accounting for Rousseau’s late, little-studied years—is his close reading of Rousseau’s oeuvre, from minor prose poems to major treatises such as Èmile and The Social Contract, which reconciles the events of his subject’s never easy life with the often contradictory ideas he came to espouse about such things as the noble savage and social equality, for which he is still remembered.

A vigorous, lucid biography of perhaps the most influential thinker of his day, with plenty of juicy gossip about his extracurricular life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-44696-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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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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