Extraordinary portraits of five dying people who contemplate ending their own lives, sensitively and movingly written by a physician who has thought long and hard about the issue of assisted suicide. Shavelson, who combines careers in medicine and journalism, encountered assisted suicide early: When he was 14, his mother, suffering from Crohn's disease and depression, made him promise to help her end her life should she so wish (she's still alive). Spurred by the response to Derek Humphry's Final Exit and the public debate over Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Shavelson contacted family support organizations and hospices for the dying to find his subjects. Each has a unique story. Renee Sahm, a resourceful woman with brain cancer, has two plans: (a) to fight for survival and (b) to kill herself. Shavelson anguishes at her bedside when she takes the fatal dose of liquid morphine and vodka. Pierre Nadeau, a proud and body-conscious young trapeze artist with AIDS, at first seems determined to commit suicide at a certain point of bodily deterioration. His story reveals not only how the dying continually redefine what they can live with but how the gay community handles assisted suicide. When Gene Robbins, a lonely widower who fears a third disabling stroke, contacts the Hemlock Society for information on how to kill himself, he gets not just brochures but some surprising personal assistance. This disturbing account of an overeager free-lance practitioner of euthanasia is the only one in which Shavelson uses pseudonymns. In recounting the poignant story of Kelly Niles, a 33-year-old quadraplegic who decides his life is no longer bearable and that starvation is his only way out, the author explores the rights of the disabled. In the final and perhaps most heart-rending story, a terminally ill woman chooses suicide but only after she and her family have their last farewells. A powerful argument in favor of legalizing assisted suicide, reinforced by haunting photographs taken by the author.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-684-80100-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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