An unflinching portrayal of an often unwieldy character—further proof of Bacon’s enduring influence.



An appropriately hefty biography of the mercurial artist.

In this exhaustively researched, well-rounded profile, which took a decade to complete, Stevens and Swan, the Pulitzer-winning authors of de Kooning: An American Master (2004), make one of the few attempts to give a holistic account of the iconic Bacon (1909-1992). While the artist’s friend Michael Peppiatt offered an intimate first-person account in Francis Bacon in Your Blood (2015), this is a forensic, sweeping text from two acclaimed art critics, based on hundreds of interviews. The authors skimp neither on context nor on details regarding Bacon’s friends and lovers, and they are unafraid to dig into the more volatile elements of his character. Lucian Freud, note the authors, “called him the most fearless man he had ever met.” Presented in a linear fashion, the narrative lends a picaresque feel to Bacon’s sometimes tragic, often dandyish life. While his habit of wandering among the pubs of London's Soho is well known, many readers will be particularly enlightened by the chapters about his childhood among the Anglo-Irish gentry, born an outsider in a house dominated by a chauvinistic father during the eruption of the Troubles. The book, featuring photos throughout, also functions as a dynamic depiction of life as a gay man in Europe during the 20th century, constantly reminding readers of the specter of violence that haunted the LGBTQ+ community for decades. Furthermore, the authors’ analyses of individual paintings, mostly free of unnecessarily technical language, are insightful. “Like Aeschylus,” they write, “Bacon hoped to capture the inexpressible” and “reach some deeper, more visceral nerve.” Resisting attempts at biography, Bacon once “remarked that it would take a Proust” to do him justice. Hyperbole, to be sure, but Stevens and Swan are up to the task of demonstrating the many complexities of an intense, significant artistic life.

An unflinching portrayal of an often unwieldy character—further proof of Bacon’s enduring influence.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-307-27162-4

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?