A sharp piece of revisionist argument.



A former editor of the New York Times Book Review persuasively argues that the man whose stage name is a byword for offensive stereotyping was in fact a sly provocateur and a race-conscious agitator.

Lincoln Perry is usually remembered as an actor who pandered to white prejudices by playing the shallow, ingratiating black buffoon billed as the “laziest man in the world,” a gullible, rural rube, all exaggerated facial expression and body language—in short, an insult to his race. But was he something else altogether? Was he, perhaps, a man possessed of considerable talent and folk wit that he used to subvert the very stereotypes he was reviled for portraying? Watkins shows how the working-class black audience who came to see “Stepin Fetchit” picked up on this subversive intent, while middle-class African-Americans saw only the insult. Equally insulted were those who couldn’t abide Perry’s off-stage and -screen bellicosity and ambition. This was no way for a black man to behave in mid-20th-century America, they felt. No doubt his wealth and sense of entitlement stuck in many craws, and his personal life only fed the fires. Perry couldn’t have been farther from Booker T. Washington’s principles of moderation and thrift: “I don’t need no insurance,” he said. “Ah ain’t never goin’ to save a dollar. . . . When I die, jes’ throw me out in the street.” Mustering ammunition from Perry’s newspaper columns, insightful reviews and his own believable interpretation of historical context, the author depicts a man who skillfully burlesqued mainstream America’s contemptuous vision of blacks, a brilliant comic actor who pioneered black achievements in the film industry. Perry was also an arch individualist who had no patience later in his life with groups like the NAACP “playin’ both ends and the middle.” This didn’t help him reconcile his roles with his intentions.

A sharp piece of revisionist argument.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-42382-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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?

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

Did you like this book?