A penetrating, blazing look at people whom many of us have forgotten—but who are the nation’s truly essential workers.

THE GOOD HAND

A MEMOIR OF WORK, BROTHERHOOD, AND TRANSFORMATION IN AN AMERICAN BOOMTOWN

A folk singer and playwright goes to the oil fields and returns with a remarkable book.

This is the book that Hillbilly Elegy should have been: a white-hot, fiercely argued case for rural working people in the face of their economically brutal lives. In 2013, unmoored in New York City, Smith traveled to the epicenter of the Bakken shale oil boom, arriving with about $5,000 to his name, hoping for much more. Williston, North Dakota, he writes, “was a tool, and we were using it to extract money from the oil companies the same way those companies were using us to extract oil from the earth.” The “we” in question are lean, hungry men from a variety of backgrounds, many spoiling for a barroom brawl. Whatever their ethnicity, they work in dangerous conditions, boiling under the summer sun and freezing in the Arctic-vortex winter. Life in Williston is no less fraught. As Smith writes, the overall crime rate during his time there was four times the national average, the incidence of rape and assault even higher. The author is no stranger to the bloody grind, having come from a dysfunctional home. In a particularly memorable moment in a book packed with them, he observes that most soldiers come from the rural poor and have suffered poverty and abuse all their lives: “These veterans have PTSD before they experienced combat. They leave home broken and come home more broken.” They come to the oil fields that way, too. Smith, having veered into overdrinking to the point of driving the wrong way down a highway, notes that they, like him, leave the oil fields with about as much money as they arrived with. Smith’s narrative, like Ben Ehrenreich’s Desert Notes, brims with intelligence and foreboding. “The North Dakota boom isn’t the one that we need to worry about,” he writes. “Boomtown Earth is busting.”

A penetrating, blazing look at people whom many of us have forgotten—but who are the nation’s truly essential workers.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984881-51-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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 refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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