Exhaustively documented, but ultimately reductive and incomplete.

THE SECRET LIFE OF OSCAR WILDE

A tedious slog through the English author’s sexual romps at the expense of his literary achievements.

Wilde’s “secret life” isn’t exactly secret anymore, but British journalist McKenna aims to chronicle, in salacious detail, his relations with every boy from the time he arrived at Oxford’s Magdalen College in 1874 through his imprisonment for “gross indecency” in 1895 and beyond. While reading classics at Oxford, the talented Irish poet was conflicted about his sexuality. His biographer charts Wilde’s growing enchantment with “Greek love” in the form of flirtations with choirboys, artist Frank Miles and his “sodomite” circle, and many others. His reading of and friendship with Walter Pater, who urged followers to “grasp at any exquisite passion,” helped convert Wilde to the Aesthetic Movement and the more “cultivated taste” of loving men. He also, however, attracted women, and his marriage seems to have been instigated by genuine feelings of love and protectiveness toward young Constance Lloyd, as well as the desire for some kind of stability to offset his erratic and dangerous cruising, blackmail by “rent boys,” and police raids of pick-up places. Becoming a father did not dissuade Wilde from “playing with fire”; he proclaimed in his letters a “daring manifesto of amorality” and wrote to one young lover, “I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience.” The dizzying parade of transient bedfellows ended only when he met the love of his life, young Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”), whose outraged father, the Marquis of Queensberry, eventually goaded Wilde into a libel suit and brought on his ruin. McKenna treats Wilde’s work secondhand and only as “autobiographical prefigurations” of his homoerotic double life. In this author’s hands, reading Wilde is reduced to a hunt for clues to his homosexuality; it’s as titillating but trivial as finding “indiscreetly inscribed cigarette cases given to young men.”

Exhaustively documented, but ultimately reductive and incomplete.

Pub Date: May 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-465-04438-7

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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