A scathing but fair indictment of how the mindless worship of wealth makes us all poorer.

JACKPOT

HOW THE SUPER-RICH REALLY LIVE―AND HOW THEIR WEALTH HARMS US ALL

Is getting filthy rich really worth it?

Mother Jones senior editor Mechanic offers a harsh wake-up call for the millions of American dreamers who still believe that winning the lottery—or just simply having obscene wealth—will change their lives for the better. The author ushers readers past the velvet rope to reveal the lifestyles of the ultrawealthy and the ever more expensive ventures they have to indulge in to not only keep themselves amused, but to outdo their wealthy peers. One of the most interesting factoids in this well-researched book is that, according to one study, a person’s “self-reported positive emotions improved with rising earnings up to a satiation point at about $65,000 per year. Negative emotions…declined as earnings increased, reaching an inverse satiation point at $95,000.” As Mechanic demonstrates throughout this eye-opening book, once the contentment with one’s finances ends, the addiction to “extrinsic” goals—e.g., buying mansions, cars, and other luxury goods—leaves less time for the “intrinsic” pursuits that give us real grounding. The author is a personable guide to this gilded world, showing how the ultrawealthy make their money and how U.S. tax laws and loopholes allow them to keep building it—but he also provides a cautionary tale about the myriad headaches that unbridled wealth can bring. Mechanic is happy to report that the rich are often bored and miserable—and (surprise!) less compassionate unless they can balance their extrinsic and intrinsic pursuits. Though the text is often a gleeful sendup of the absurd eccentricities of the superrich, the author also spotlights a few billionaires who find genuine spiritual contentment in giving their wealth away. “For an actual rags-to-riches tale,” writes the author, “one might turn to Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, who grew up penniless in rural Texas and went on to become an icon in the world of philanthropy.”

A scathing but fair indictment of how the mindless worship of wealth makes us all poorer.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982127-21-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

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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