Meyer’s book sheds fascinating light on an icon who has been reduced to a symbol.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S LAST BET

THE FAVORITE FOUNDER’S DIVISIVE DEATH, ENDURING AFTERLIFE, AND BLUEPRINT FOR AMERICAN PROSPERITY

A portrait of the great revolutionary leader as a working-class populist.

Like the other Founding Fathers, writes historian Meyer, Benjamin Franklin was morally compromised: He pledged himself to the cause of liberty, yet he kept slaves throughout his life. That fact has been long known but little publicized. So, too, the subject of this book, namely a fund that Franklin established toward the end of his life that would endow the cities of Philadelphia, where Franklin made his fortune, and Boston, where he studied, with funds that would mature over the centuries, meanwhile providing small loans to working-class people to be repaid with interest over 10-year periods. “Although the term would not be coined for another two centuries,” writes Meyer, “Franklin’s ethical lending scheme can be seen as a forerunner of microfinance.” In addition, thanks to the miracle of compound interest, a portion of the funds—which amounted to a bit under $4,500 in the money of the time but which, properly managed, should have yielded billions today—were also to be distributed to the cities for public works improvements. Franklin made numerous assumptions that didn’t hold, among them that the funds would be competently administered by civic-minded volunteers and repaid on time. Neither happened thanks to various financial crises in the days before central banking. In 1828, Meyer writes, “Philadelphia’s auditor—making a soft approximation—penciled in a balance of $9,919.50, a calamitous 43 percent slide in only four years.” What should have been billions amounted to just a few million two centuries later, and the inequality that Franklin meant to combat by helping workers build businesses and trade education has mounted. Still, as Meyer notes, despite mismanagement and neglect, that there’s any money left at all should count as a plus, as well as the fact that Franklin’s “example of civic virtue has been carried forward, as he had hoped, for two hundred years.”

Meyer’s book sheds fascinating light on an icon who has been reduced to a symbol.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-328-56889-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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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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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