It’s not every 29-year-old who can pack enough into a life to warrant a 500-page biography—and a good one at that.

HANK

THE SHORT LIFE AND LONG COUNTRY ROAD OF HANK WILLIAMS

“Everything he did was bad for his health”: a sturdy biography of the unsteady icon of outlaw country avant la lettre.

Luke the Drifter. The Hillbilly Shakespeare. Before Elvis came along, the King. Hiram King Williams (1923-1953) bore many names and monikers, as befits someone constantly on the move. When he became famous as a musician, being on the move was a requirement; Williams had to get from one gig to another, no matter how drunk or drugged he might be when he took the stage. But even early on, writes Florida-based music journalist Ribowsky (Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines: The Life and Music of James Taylor, 2016, etc.), Williams was used to life on the go, his father often traveling on his railroad job, sometimes a step away from the poorhouse. Born with a spinal defect, Williams channeled his pain into music but then, once the music was on paper or acetate, tried to move that pain farther along with an appalling diet of morphine, pharmaceuticals, and booze, all of which hastened his death. As Ribowsky notes, several templates were thus established, from death by prescription-happy doctor (Elvis, Michael Jackson) to country star as soused or pilled-up rebel (Johnny Cash, George Jones). The author is very good on the culture that surrounded Williams, enshrined by an Alabaman who told him, “you do what you gotta do on Saturday night, then go to church on Sunday morning and make it all right with God.” Though defiantly separatist, that culture, in Williams’ case, was laced with the blues and gospel as much as mountain music. Ribowsky covers the details of Williams’ untidy personal life without undue sensationalism, and if it lacks the intellectual depth of a Greil Marcus or the lived-in encyclopedism of a Peter Guralnick, his book is just fine for what it is, a decidedly warts-and-all portrait of a man more revered than listened to these days.

It’s not every 29-year-old who can pack enough into a life to warrant a 500-page biography—and a good one at that.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63149-157-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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...

NIGHT

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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