An intriguing and mostly engaging collection of life-threatening stories.



A woman’s striking and unexpected foray into near-death experiences.

What happens to us when we near death? When the decisions we have made bring us to the moment when it might be too late to look back and change our minds? These are two of the many questions O’Farrell (This Must Be the Place, 2016, etc.) explores as she embarks in a memoiristic exercise in writing down, archiving, anthologizing, and understanding all the instances in which she almost lost her life. Written in nonchronological order, the stories are organized by body parts. For example, in “Neck: 1990,” the author remembers a dark and eerie evening walking back to the cottage where she worked and stumbling upon an all-too-familiar man. “I have an instinct for the onset of violence,” she writes, “I seemed to incite it in others for reasons I never quite understood.” The man made her strap a pair of binoculars around her neck to watch the ducks. Nothing happened to her that night, but a different woman was later found strangled by a pair of binoculars, allegedly by the same man. The tales that follow this opener involve much more intensely medical experiences, such as the nasty strain of amoebic dysentery O’Farrell caught in China (“the amoeba was winning…I was ready to die, to abandon the fight. It was easier than staying alive”) or a life-changing neurological illness that modified, at a very young age, the rest of her life. The author also tells the stories of her multiple—at times unsuccessful—pregnancies. Throughout, the narrative is compelling and visceral; O’Farrell knows how to draw in readers. Perhaps the only downside to the book’s organization is that because the stories aren’t in chronological order, some of them feel repetitive, as the author occasionally provides redundant context about the events in her life.

An intriguing and mostly engaging collection of life-threatening stories.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52022-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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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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