A top-notch dual biography of two presidents who deserved better.



An unsettling yet well-presented argument that the failures of John and John Quincy Adams illustrate a disturbing feature of American politics.

John Adams (1735-1826) became an early proponent of independence in the Continental Congress. Isenberg (White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, 2016, etc.) and Burstein (Democracy's Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead, 2015, etc.), professors of history at Louisiana State University who co-authored Madison and Jefferson (2010), show how he disliked aristocracy but worried equally about the problems of a mass electorate. He believed that selfish humans would look after their own interests and persecute minorities they disliked. His solution was a strong president to oppose powerful interests and keep the majority from abusing fellow citizens. Missing the point, Thomas Jefferson considered Adams a closet monarchist. He entered office in 1797 as an independent in a nation with two parties: Hamilton’s Federalists and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. Both worked successfully to ensure his defeat in 1800. It did not help that Adams was quarrelsome and insecure, lacking Jefferson’s cosmopolitan appeal. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became his father’s secretary as an adolescent and spent a lifetime serving the nation as a diplomat, senator, and secretary of state. Equally testy and independent, he suffered the misfortune of running in the 1824 presidential election, finishing second to Andrew Jackson. No one obtained a majority, so the House of Representatives determined the president, choosing Adams. Of course, this enraged Jackson and his Democratic Party, which controlled Congress, ensuring that Adams endured an unhappy presidency. Besides lively, warts-and-all portraits of the men and the surprisingly nasty politics of the young nation, the authors delve deeply into their philosophies and those of Enlightenment thinkers who influenced them. They conclude that both were more intelligent and experienced than most two-term presidents but lacked the common touch, essential in America, where we “glorify equality but ogle self-made billionaires and tabloid royalty.”

A top-notch dual biography of two presidents who deserved better.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55750-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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 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...


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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