Entertaining historical excavation.

THE KING OF CONFIDENCE

A TALE OF UTOPIAN DREAMERS, FRONTIER SCHEMERS, TRUE BELIEVERS, FALSE PROPHETS, AND THE MURDER OF AN AMERICAN MONARCH

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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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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