An elegant, deeply perceptive portrait.



The “vivid and propulsive” life of the wife of statesman and president John Quincy Adams.

Drawing on a rich trove of letters, diaries, and memoirs, historian and journalist Thomas (Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family—a Test of Will and Faith in World War I, 2012) has created an enthralling, sharply etched portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (1775-1852), the wife of America’s sixth president. Portrayed by many historians as sickly and delicate, a weak specimen when compared with her stalwart mother-in-law, Abigail, Louisa emerges as a spirited, ambitious woman who grew from a submissive girl to a politically astute writer and thinker. She learned early in her marriage that her husband’s “first devotion was to his country, his second to his parents, and his third to his books.” He could be exacting, supercilious, domineering, and “self-involved in unbelievable ways,” but in times of distress—miscarriages, debilitating illnesses, and the deaths of three of their four children—he was lovingly tender. Louisa was, he said, his best friend. Louisa followed her husband wherever his duty took him: Prussia, St. Petersburg, London, Washington, and the Adams family homestead in Quincy, Massachusetts, which Louisa deemed an insufferable backwater. Travel was arduous: the trip from America to Russia took 80 days; Quincy to Washington, “three miserable weeks.” Alone, Louisa traveled with her 5-year-old son from St. Petersburg to Paris, nearly 2,000 miles over 40 days, as Napoleon’s troops invaded, proving herself shrewd and decisive; adversity, the author concludes, brought out her strength. Her warmth as a hostess helped to soften the effects of her husband’s sullenness. “They must have a President that they dare speak to,” she told him, when he coveted the highest office. Thomas effectively sets Louisa’s eventful life against the backdrop of a nation transforming itself, debating foreign and domestic policy, including slavery, which John Quincy vehemently opposed.

An elegant, deeply perceptive portrait.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-463-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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 19, 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...


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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