An intriguing eyewitness historical account rendered in a surprisingly pedestrian manner.

THE YEAR I WAS PETER THE GREAT

1956--KHRUSHCHEV, STALIN’S GHOST, AND A YOUNG AMERICAN IN RUSSIA

A veteran TV news correspondent’s memoir of his first assignment in Russia, which corresponded with Nikita Khrushchev’s unprecedented “thaw.”

A graduate student studying Russian history and language in 1956, Kalb (Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War, 2015, etc.) was plucked by the State Department to do translation work for an international organization in Moscow. In his first memoir, the former anchor of NBC’s Meet the Press and senior adviser at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the author, now in his 80s, switches from writing history to writing about himself to depict this extraordinarily enlightening year—not an easy task. He relies on a diary he kept during this year working as a translator/interpreter, traveling around Russia, and even meeting Khrushchev himself, who made a historic address to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union tearing down the cult worship of the once-untouchable Stalin, who had died in 1953. Raised in the Bronx and in Washington Heights, Kalb attended City College in the footsteps of his older brother, Bernard, who became a New York Times journalist and whose advice proved prophetic: if the author wanted to become a journalist, he should “cultivate an area of expertise…that would catch the eye of an editor or producer.” Learning Russian proved to be the ticket. In Moscow, Kalb was assigned the work of translating and analyzing the Soviet press, which would give clues to what was really going on in the Kremlin. Khrushchev’s speech did change history, and during a time of enormous political uncertainty, Kalb describes scenes of spontaneous youthful demonstrations at the Lenin Library, which would spread that summer to the East Bloc. The author has an amazing story of an important year in Russian history, but the prose doesn’t always match the gravity of the events he recounts.

An intriguing eyewitness historical account rendered in a surprisingly pedestrian manner.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8157-3161-0

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Brookings Institution Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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 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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