French writer Hadas-Lebel offers a scholarly buy terse biography of the enigmatic Jewish-Roman general and historian Flavius Josephus (37 A.D. - c. 95? A.D.), who participated in, witnessed, and then recorded the Jewish uprising against Roman rule (67 A.D. - 73 A.D.). Hadas-Lebel presents Josephus as an unusually clever but otherwise typical upper-class Jewish male of the priestly class, thoroughly grounded in Jewish Pharisaical traditions, and acquainted as well with the classical Greco-Latin learning of the regnant Romans. A patriotic Jew who feared and admired Roman strength, which he saw firsthand on a youthful visit to Rome, Josephus was a pragmatist who saw no hope in resisting Roman rule (his realism starkly contrasted with the mystical fatalism of many of the other Jewish leaders). Because of his priestly lineage and evident intellect, he became a natural, albeit reluctant, military leader of the rebellion (the causes of which are not explained in any depth); although he opposed the uprising against Rome, Hadas- Lebel speculates, he would have been executed if he has opposed the fanatical Jewish leaders. After an initial victory, the Jewish leaders were reduced to defending their fortified cities against the Roman armies of Vespasian and his son Titus. Josephus, designated by the rebels as the Governor-General of Galilee, defended Jotapata, often thwarting the more numerous and better armed Romans through a variety of clever stratagems. However, Jotapata finally fell, and after its destruction, Josephus befriended Vespasian and Titus through flattering prophecies about their ultimately becoming Emperors (which came true). The Roman generals spared him, and Josephus became the ally of the Romans and witness to their destruction of Judaea, including Jerusalem in 70 A.D. After the loss of Jerusalem, Josephus accompanied his captors to Rome, where he stayed for the rest of his life, and wrote the Jewish War (75?) and Jewish Antiquities (93?), among other works. Much is missing here: there is little analysis of the causes of the Jewish rebellion or of the civil war among Jewish factions (to which, in part, Hadas-Lebel attributes the fall of Jerusalem). Nonetheless, sticking faithfully to extant sources, Hadas-Lebel succeeds in making the astute, practical Josephus, and his moral compromises, come alive, and leaves the reader to decide whether Josephus was a despicable traitor or an admirable realist.

Pub Date: June 7, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-547161-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1993


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