Shell (Comparative Literature and English/Harvard) explores the relationship of kinship to nationhood by challenging the basic assumption that we can always know the identity of our true parents. In so doing, he speaks urgently but ploddingly—and unconvincingly—about fundamental human problems. By insisting that parental ties are always in doubt—that we all could have been switched at birth, for example—Shell reassesses the concept of family as a means of analyzing Western political and social thought from antiquity to the 20th century. He contrasts the seemingly attractive motto that ``all men are brothers''—a recurrent theme in Western thought—with what he perceives to be its inevitable corollary: that those who are not my literal or figurative brothers are ``others'' or animals, not human at all, and undeserving of the rights granted to brothers. This dialectic, he contends, is the source of nationalism and other inter-group antagonisms that are the eternal scourge of Western society. A parallel argument running through the book (made with particular force in discussions of Elizabethan England and pre-Revolutionary France) holds that the metaphor of universal brotherhood has led to a idea that may lie at the source of Western anxieties about sexuality: If everyone is my sibling, then any act of sexual intercourse is incestuous. Shell spans hundreds of years, looking at, among other scenarios, the Spanish Inquisition, America's Civil War, and contemporary, bilingual Quebec. He analyzes literature from Racine to Twain and draws upon a wide body of work by sociologists, anthropologists, theologians, historians, and others to support his theories. Hugely ambitious and erudite, but repetitive and full of academic jargon. Moreover, Shell's premise about the absolute uncertainty of parenthood, while technically accurate, denies common sense—and his theory falls to take into account fully the widely accepted scientific theory of the 'selfish' gene, which dictates that genes themselves, not ideas about kinship, determine human alliances and antagonisms.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-506864-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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