Ambitious, erudite and only occasionally pedantic.

ALL WE KNOW

THREE LIVES

Meticulously researched biography about three extraordinary but underappreciated women who, as they memorialized themselves, also “colluded in [creating their] own invisibility.”

The subjects of the book are the complicated, interconnected lives of New York intellectual Esther Murphy, playwright and celebrity admirer Mercedes de Acosta and fashion editor Madge Garland. Murphy was a brilliant, charismatic woman who dazzled everyone with her “extravagant verbal style.” Despite the minor successes she experienced with her essays and reviews, she was unable to finish any of the books she was contracted to write. Cohen (English/Wesleyan Univ.) hypothesizes that Murphy was a performer whose “need for an audience was so great that she could not isolate herself to write” the texts that would have earned her greater recognition. By contrast, de Acosta actively attached herself emotionally, and sometimes sexually, to some of the greatest performers of her time, including Isadora Duncan, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. But in the process of obsessively collecting memorabilia related to these women, she effectively erased her own life. Like de Acosta, Garland, an editor at British Vogue, also immersed herself in the world of women. A closeted lesbian who led a double sexual life to protect her social position, Garland “played a defining role in almost every aspect of the fashion industry in England in the interwar and postwar years.” Yet because she took interest in the ephemeral (fashion) and because she never trumpeted her achievements, she left no lasting memorial to her accomplishments. Murphy's life was an apparent monument to failure, de Acosta's to the irrational and Garland's to the trivial. As Cohen shows, however, each woman succeeded in problematizing the concept of modern celebrity.

Ambitious, erudite and only occasionally pedantic.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-17649-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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

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UNTAMED

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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