A welcome spotlight on an overdue “experiment.”



The story of the first scholars to participate in a “messy experiment” at Harvard’s Radcliffe college.

The 1950s and ’60s were tough for educated women, especially those who wanted to be writers or artists. Men dominated academia and literature, and women were expected to stay home and care for their husbands and children. So in 1960, microbiologist Mary Ingraham Bunting, Radcliffe president and mother of four, created the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, a fellowship program to provide a stipend and office space to help “intellectually displaced women” become scholars and artists while also caring for a family. In her debut, Doherty, who teaches writing at Harvard, tells the story of several of the Institute’s first scholars, women who called themselves the Equivalents because the Institute “required that applicants have either a doctorate or ‘the equivalent’ in creative achievement.” The author focuses on three of them: Anne Sexton, who “came from New England wealth” yet endured demons that precipitated several suicide attempts; fellow poet Maxine Kumin, with whom Sexton forged an enduring friendship even though Kumin came from a less privileged background; and writer Tillie Olsen, “a first-generation, working-class American, an itinerant, and an agitator” who named her first daughter Karla after Karl Marx and was the first among her cohort to note that “the true struggle was the class struggle”—i.e., not every woman “had the time, resources, and education” to immerse themselves in creative endeavors. Other Institute scholars, such as sculptor Marianna Pineda and painter Barbara Swan, are also mentioned. Digressions about women peripherally connected to the scholars may have been an attempt to place the graduates’ post-Institute work in a broader perspective, but it feels as if Doherty didn’t have enough material about these scholars to fill an entire volume. When she sticks to her subject, the book is superb, especially when she recounts Sexton’s personal struggles and offers close analyses of each author’s works.

A welcome spotlight on an overdue “experiment.”

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3305-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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