A revelatory exploration of Longfellow’s life and art and how he became a “dominant force in American Letters.”

CROSS OF SNOW

A LIFE OF HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

A welcome new biography of the iconic 19th-century poet.

For many Americans, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) is fondly associated with “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the “most memorized poem in American history.” In this comprehensive, affectionate, and astute biography, the first in many years, Basbanes provides a valuable reassessment of the once-beloved poet who fell from grace in the literary establishment just years after his death. For Basbanes, Longfellow was “discreet, loyal, and principled to a fault.” Drawing on previously unexplored primary source material, he focuses as much on the private man—especially the influential roles Longfellow’s two beloved wives, Mary and Fanny, had on his work—as he does on the public one. Their horrific deaths affected him greatly. One of eight children, young Henry was a “model of probity and purpose,” publishing his first poem at 13. Success at Bowdoin College—where lifelong friend Nathaniel Hawthorne was a fellow classmate—earned him a European fellowship to study foreign languages. The trip, Basbanes writes, was “fundamental” to everything he would become. Longfellow taught at Bowdoin but grew restless, yearning for the literary life. A position at Harvard included more language study abroad; ultimately, he was able to read 15 languages. By the age of 30, Longfellow had published numerous poems, essays, and translations. His first major work, Hyperion, received a favorable response but was trashed in print by Edgar Allan Poe. During the Civil War, Longfellow’s poem “The Building of the Ship,” writes Basbanes, “brought tears to the eyes of Abraham Lincoln.” The Song of Hiawatha sold 4,000 copies upon publication, 50,000 in the first two years in America. He was also popular in Britain, “outselling Robert Browning and Tennyson on their own turf.” His translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy “alone is a singular achievement, and his sonnets compare with the best in English.”

A revelatory exploration of Longfellow’s life and art and how he became a “dominant force in American Letters.” (76 photos)

Pub Date: June 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-101-87514-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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