A well-told portrait of a would-be titan—and a cautionary history for our own era. (b&w photos, not seen)

PONZI

THE MAN AND HIS LEGENDAY SCHEME

From former Boston Globe reporter Zuckoff (Journalism/Boston Univ.; Choosing Naia, 2002): an entertaining history about the 1920 financial bubble that became a prototype for later business scandals.

Main character: Charles Ponzi, owner of the Securities Exchange Co. In the prior 14 years, he had tramped around North America, twice going to jail (for forgery and for smuggling aliens into the US) before returning to Boston. America was kicking off the Roaring Twenties when, Zuckoff notes, “a new ethos was emerging, one that would reshape what it meant to be an American. No more pennies saved and pennies earned.” A none-too-serious college education in Italy, along with banking and exporting jobs in the New World, boosted Ponzi’s indefatigable self-confidence and his desire for fine living. Noticing fluctuating currency exchange rates, this dapper little man told gullible investors he’d double their money in three months through purchases of international postage stamps. But it was a classic get-rich-quick scheme involving “robbing Peter to pay Paul”—depending on an influx of later investors to pay back earlier clients. When thousands (including an estimated three-quarters of the badly paid Boston Police Department) rushed to put their savings into his scheme, Ponzi became an overnight success. Or so it seemed until the Massachusetts attorney general, a bank examiner, and both the federal and county DA, prodded by the Boston Post and financial journalist Clarence Barron, began to investigate. The jerry-rigged structure trembled, and Ponzi went back to prison. Zuckoff pays attention to Ponzi’s resentment of the blueblood media and business establishment that he assailed as “an autocratic clique which has been able to prey upon the credulity of the people.” Though unquestionably a con artist, Ponzi comes off as more appealing than many of his tormentors: optimistic, generous, devoted to his wife—just a dreamer whose impulses outran his resources and common sense.

A well-told portrait of a would-be titan—and a cautionary history for our own era. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 15, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6039-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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