A top-notch biography.

The tale of one of the most disastrous marriages in English literary history—and how it reverberated through generations to come.

Prolific novelist and literary biographer Seymour (The Pity of War: England and Germany, Bitter Friends, Beloved Foes, 2014, etc.) returns to the familiar Romantic era ground she covered in her 2001 biography, Mary Shelley, with this wide-ranging dysfunctional family portrait. Raised as a beautiful, pampered, privileged social princess, Annabella Milbanke married the great poet Lord Byron with the most delusional of intentions: She would reform the rake who famously seduced anyone who didn’t seduce him first. However, no sooner were they on their honeymoon than Byron brought his half sister, Augusta Leigh, into the game and all but made love to her under the nose of his naïve and oblivious bride. Annabella, who only dealt with the unthinkable when it became the unavoidable, fled within a year, taking along Ada, her newborn daughter by Byron. Her marriage made her vindictive and cruel; she could wield the unpleasant and unlawful facts as a cudgel against Byron and Augusta as well as their unfortunate daughter Elizabeth Medora. More than that, she raised and molded Ada by herself, with results that went well beyond her control. While she nurtured Ada’s genius—she was the mathematical prodigy who became the explicator and promoter of Charles Babbage’s groundbreaking Analytical Machine, the forerunner of the computer—Ada was every bit her father’s daughter. The self-proclaimed “bride of science,” she supplemented her marriage with affairs and a disastrous interest in racehorse gambling; she also bristled under the restraints of her tightfisted and domineering mother. Seymour’s great achievement is the resourcefulness and diligence she brings to both Annabella and Ada, complex figures who alternately invite and test readers’ sympathies. Their inner and outer lives—along with those of dozens of others who populate this tragic farce—are told with singular narrative skill.

A top-notch biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-872-3

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018


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

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