An insightful perspective on Conrad’s life and turbulent times.



An absorbing biography melds history and literary analysis.

Jasanoff (History/Harvard Univ.; Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, 2011, etc.), who has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and the George Washington Book Prize, asserts that the novels of Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) “meditate on how to behave in a globalizing world,” where characters “confront some critical choice, only to face consequences more far-ranging than they ever imagined.” Drawing on Conrad’s many works of fiction, memoir, letters, and essays, Jasanoff focuses especially on his most famous novels—The Secret Agent, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, and Nostromo—to reveal how he responded to a roiling age plagued by anarchy, revolution, and oppression. His characters “struggle with displacement, alienation, and despair,” caused by both external and internal forces. Conrad, Jasanoff reveals, was “perpetually depressed, incorrigibly cynical, alarmingly prejudiced” against Asians and Jews, and beset by childhood experiences that inspired his “fatalistic sense of the world as a realm where, no matter how hard you tried to make your own way, you might never slip the tracks of destiny.” As a teenager, he set out alone from his native Poland, then under Russian domination, determined to become a seaman; in 1878, he arrived in cosmopolitan London and began a career in the merchant marine, rising to the rank of captain over the next 20 years. Travels throughout the world fueled his imagination. During voyages to Asia, he “stowed away landscapes, characters, and plots” that inspired “half of everything Conrad ever published.” In rich detail, Jasanoff skillfully contextualizes his work within “a chain of historical events” that led to profound social and political change. Heart of Darkness, for example, was “closely pegged” to King Leopold II’s ruthless exploitation of the Congo. Jasanoff focuses less on Conrad’s family life (his wife and sons are lightly sketched) than on the prescient “global compass” of his literary works.

An insightful perspective on Conrad’s life and turbulent times.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59420-581-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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 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...


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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