The years around 1000 CE seem to be every medieval historian’s favorite era, but Brown’s welcome addition to the genre...

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THE ABACUS AND THE CROSS

THE STORY OF THE POPE WHO BROUGHT THE LIGHT OF SCIENCE TO THE DARK AGES

A thoroughly engrossing account of the Dark Ages and one of its Popes, both far less dark than popular histories teach.

Journalist and science writer Brown returns to the period of her previous book (The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, 2007, etc.) to concentrate on Gerbert of Aurillac (946–1003), an educator who became an archbishop, counselor to kings and emperors and finally Pope Sylvester II in 999. Although Gerbert was only a modestly important figure, the author interweaves her biography with a rich portrait of a society in which the usual litany of medieval ignorance and superstition are not much in evidence. Educated in a Church school, Gerbert learned not only the Bible but rhetoric, ancient classics, astronomy, mathematics and music. He traveled widely, visiting Spain, then largely ruled by Muslims, where he admired their learning and probably introduced both Arabic numbers and the abacus into Europe. Gerbert’s hundreds of surviving letters reveal intense curiosity about mathematics and nature, and Brown emphasizes that his educated contemporaries (almost all churchmen) shared this interest. They built instruments, drew maps, gave technical advice to rulers and used complex devices such as the astrolabe to study the stars, tell time and make precise calculations. The author gives equal time to medieval science, to debunking myths (educated men knew the earth was round) and to the tortured contemporary politics that preoccupied Gerbert for the last decade of his life.

The years around 1000 CE seem to be every medieval historian’s favorite era, but Brown’s welcome addition to the genre provides a lively, eye-opening portrait of a sophisticated Europe whose intellectual leaders showed genuine interest in learning.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-465-00950-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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