A perfect introduction to a deeply private and immensely important man.

An attorney and author looks at the early life and career of our fourth president.

Though he’s the principal architect of our constitutional form of government, James Madison (1751-1836) remains, for most Americans, the least distinct of all the Founders, better known as Hamilton’s and Jay’s co-author, as Jefferson’s lieutenant, as the beguiling Dolley’s husband. In this highly readable and often insightful treatment, Signer (Demagogue: The Fight to Save America from Its Worst Enemies, 2009, etc.) colors in the portrait, finding the essential Madison in the young man as he charts the diminutive Virginian’s “evolving character and his emerging ideas.” A remarkably intense, indefatigably hardworking youth, Madison mastered self-control in part to mask his raw sensitivity and frail health. Signer convincingly diagnoses his infirmity—contra Madison biographer Lynne Cheney—as “severe anxiety-driven panic attacks that made him ill.” Despite this weakness, he consciously set out to become a statesman, regularly asserting himself in the public, rough-and-tumble world of politics, using, oftentimes anonymously, the power of his ideas and the elegance of his pen to shape the debate. With a character influenced by his father, his tutor, and especially his college president, the Presbyterian cleric John Witherspoon, Madison drew ideas from his voluminous reading and all-encompassing scholarship. Finding the Socratic method distasteful and inadequate, he fashioned his own search for truth and developed it into a singular political strategy. Signer describes Madison’s method as an “interlocking set of nine tactics” that primarily emphasized ideas, preparation, timing, and, most of all, the quelling of passion in oneself and one’s opponent. The author offers some dramatic set pieces demonstrating Madison’s method in action—the 1784 fight against religious assessments in Virginia, the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia ratification battle, etc.—illustrating its effectiveness against more conventional tactics and politicians. He’s particularly good at showing how Madison’s discipline, relentless logic and faith in reason allowed him to triumph over his in-state antagonist, Patrick Henry.

A perfect introduction to a deeply private and immensely important man.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61039-295-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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