Entertaining historical excavation.



A nicely spun yarn of religious chicanery on the frontier in a nearly forgotten historical episode.

Harvey has a pronounced fondness for obscure characters from American history. In this book, the center of his attention is James Strang (1813-1856), a scoundrel to most, a saint to others, who “vanished into the night” in western New York in 1843 only to appear some time later in Nauvoo, Illinois. There, though previously a professed atheist, he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by none other than Joseph Smith. Strang, Harvey allows, may have come there in order to bilk Latter-day Saint settlers, as he had apparently done to New Yorkers before. However, Strang quickly realized that there was more to be made by being a religious leader, and when Smith was killed, Strang asserted that he was heir to his throne. Brigham Young prevailed, but Strang kept up his campaign while establishing an offshoot of the church first in Wisconsin, then on an island in Lake Michigan, fulfilling his “plans to lay claim to a kingdom all his own.” Strang, “always alert to the possibility of making a buck,” took that kingship seriously, siting his kingdom at a place that steamers plying the Great Lakes would dock in order to refuel on the island’s abundant wood. He also horned in on other businesses, including the fishing trade that had sustained inhabitants before Strang’s arrival, along with several hundred of his followers. The conflicts that Strang sowed right and left—e.g., he condemned others for adultery while abandoning his repudiation of polygamy and taking multiple wives—soon caught up with him. Harvey notes that the end of Strang’s realm coincided with Herman Melville’s writing his great novel The Confidence-Man, and the author hazards that there could have been no better model for a character who outshone P.T. Barnum in profiting from gullibility, if only for a short while. Harvey’s narrative is a page-turning exercise in popular history perfect for fans of Devil in the White City.

Entertaining historical excavation.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-46359-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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 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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