A well-researched, glitzy, and flawed history of conspicuous consumption.



A new perspective on the rise of the leisure class.

In his latest book, former Travel + Leisure features editor Barr (Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, 2013) dives into the many aspects of the restaurant industry during the belle epoque era that laid the groundwork for today’s fine-dining experience. The author focuses on the unlikely union of two entrepreneurs: Swiss hotelier César Ritz (1850-1918) and French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). The two men shared an insatiable appetite for culinary success, but it wasn’t just the food they were concerned about. By working together to bring the now-renowned Savoy Hotel to its current glory, Ritz and Escoffier introduced epicurean principles to a general public that had no point of reference to understand such lifestyles. “The nouveaux riches had arrived,” writes Barr, “but until now, there had never been anywhere for them to go to announce their arrival. They had rarely been invited to the exclusive dinner parties or private clubs of high society. But now there was the Savoy. The restaurant may have served the most refined, daring, and sometimes shockingly expensive food in the world, but it was not exclusive….The Savoy offered a new and democratic kind of luxury, and cooking was very much at the center of it.” In this process, Ritz and Escoffier created a whole new breed of city dwellers dedicated to “a life of pleasure, a theater of luxury.” The two would later go on to create the Hotel Ritz in Paris. As in his previous book, it’s clear that Barr has done extensive research to master his topic, and the book serves as an expansive resource for those interested in learning more about the turn-of-the-century leisure class. However, the never-ending name-dropping becomes distracting and tiresome. The story would have benefited from more social and cultural analysis and fewer fabulous cameos.

A well-researched, glitzy, and flawed history of conspicuous consumption.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8041-8629-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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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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