A sympathetic, cleareyed portrait that gives Dworkin her due without smoothing over her rough edges.



Veteran biographer and gay rights activist Duberman assesses the life and thought of the combative radical feminist.

Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) was among the most controversial figures in the second-wave feminist movement, caricatured by her critics as a man-hating lesbian who believed all heterosexual sex was rape. Duberman, who knew her personally, paints a much more nuanced picture, pointing out that Dworkin lived for 40 years in a nonexclusive, occasionally sexual relationship with a devoted male partner and that she was ahead of her time in seeing gender as a social construct that denied the fluidity of human sexual behavior. His account of Dworkin’s childhood and youth depicts a precocious rebel with a deep commitment to social justice and a theatrical, confrontational personality that brooked no compromise or evasions. When she was subjected to a brutal and humiliating vaginal exam after being arrested at a sit-in protesting the Vietnam War, 18-year-old Dworkin wrote to every newspaper in New York City describing her ordeal and the conditions at the Women’s House of Detention. It was the beginning of her lifelong battle to make the world face the fact that women were routinely mistreated and abused, culminating in her famous crusade against pornography. Duberman persuasively argues that Dworkin’s position was misunderstood as a call for censorship when in fact what she advocated was the right of women who had been harmed by pornography to sue its purveyors—and their obligation to prove their case in court. Her response to free-speech absolutists gives a good sense of both her belligerence and her searching intelligence: “People have no idea how middle-classed and privileged their liberal First Amendment stuff is—how power and money determine who can speak in this society.” These words resonate even more strongly today, and Duberman notes that after years of opprobrium, there is now “a modicum of acknowledgment of Andrea’s insistent bravery, her mesmerizing public voice, her generosity of spirit.”

A sympathetic, cleareyed portrait that gives Dworkin her due without smoothing over her rough edges.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62097-585-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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