Lord Peter Wimsey’s creator upstages her companions as they blaze trails for women.

THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY

HOW DOROTHY L. SAYERS AND HER OXFORD CIRCLE REMADE THE WORLD FOR WOMEN

A group portrait of a celebrated crime writer and her Oxford friends.

When Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) arrived at Somerville College in 1912, women were second-class citizens, able to take classes but not earn degrees. Undaunted, the future novelist and other female students read their works in progress aloud—with “no false modesty or feminine shame”—at meetings of a group that Sayers dubbed the Mutual Admiration Society. In this well-researched group biography, Moulton (History/Univ. of Birmingham; Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England, 2014) follows four pillars of the “society” as they challenged stereotypes of women throughout their lives: Muriel St. Clare Byrne, a distinguished historian and playwright; Charis Barnett Frankenburg, a birth control pioneer who wrote popular child-rearing manuals; Dorothea Hanbury Rowe, the co-founder of an influential amateur theater company; and Sayers, the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories. Dividing its focus among the women, the book shows how they helped one another as friends, intellectual sounding boards, and, in the case of Sayers and Byrne, collaborators on the play Busman’s Honeymoon. The drawback to this approach is that Sayers was the star from the start, and a surfeit of prosaic details about her friends and their outliers makes for a slow-paced story, further encumbered with redundancies (most Wimsey novels are “enduring classics”), retrofitted jargon (the women risked “marginality within the gender politics of their era”), and unedifying exposition (Frankenburg found it “enormously stressful” to have three sons in uniform in World War II). Still, Moulton offers telling glimpses of Sayers, whether she’s making a daring plan to hide her son born out of wedlock or exulting when her agent sells Whose Body? to Boni & Liveright: “I am rich! I am famous!” Moulton also has a firm answer to the question of who inspired Lord Peter: “The early Wimsey is, above all, an idealized version of DLS herself, with bits and pieces of her experiences and her fantasies woven in to make a genuinely fictional character.”

Lord Peter Wimsey’s creator upstages her companions as they blaze trails for women.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4447-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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