Will not appeal to hard-core law-and-order types, but others will find this a brave and empathetic story of how literature...

THE MAXIMUM SECURITY BOOK CLUB

READING LITERATURE IN A MEN'S PRISON

Compassionate account of running a literary reading group among convicts at Maryland’s Jessup maximum security prison.

Psychoanalyst and author Brottman (Humanistic Studies/Maryland Institute Coll. of Art; The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical, and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals, 2014, etc.) hypothesizes that her own hardscrabble British childhood left her able to relate to criminal outcasts. “I’ve long been preoccupied with the lives of people generally considered unworthy of sympathy,” she writes. Beginning as a volunteer during her sabbatical, she’s kept the reading group going for over three years, despite her concerns that “the compulsion that draws me to these men is less an allegiance than…a form of survivor’s guilt.” Brottman argues that even dark literary works can salve the desperation of a long prison sentence, and she captures the camaraderie created within the group. Each chapter focuses on the group’s reactions to a particular work, while she develops the inmates’ personal stories in the context of prison’s rigors. Her perspective on her subjects becomes disarming, although several have committed murder and others struggle with mental illness. Brottman’s literary selections tend to be bleak and difficult: she began with Heart of Darkness and “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and then moved on to transgressive work by Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs. “To them,” she writes, “as to [Bukowski stand-in] Henry Chinaski, brutality was a fact of nature.” The book group remains a sought-after activity. The author claims that almost “no one dropped out unless they were released or transferred,” even as funding for such programs has diminished. Brottman’s own literary discussion is thoughtful, but the main appeal is the developing bond with her allegedly unsalvageable students, whose warmth and perceptiveness constantly surprise her. As one observes regarding Poe’s “The Black Cat,” “they bury us alive without thinking twice about it.”

Will not appeal to hard-core law-and-order types, but others will find this a brave and empathetic story of how literature brings light into shadows.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-238433-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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

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