Readers should be impressed by Baker’s persistence, and most will end up charmed, however obliquely, by his obsessions.

BASELESS

MY SEARCH FOR SECRETS IN THE RUINS OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

The versatile author of fiction and nonfiction chronicles his “not entirely successful efforts to squeeze germs of truth from the sanitized documentary record of the U.S. government.”

In his latest, Baker, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among others, writes about his work from March 9, 2019 through May 19, 2019. During those months, he intensively explored mountains of documents to determine whether the government deployed illegal biological weapons during the Korean War. To search for truth about the biological weapons, Baker sent Freedom of Information Act requests to numerous government agencies, and he received radio silence. The daily diary pings between the flaws in the FIA—a 1966 law meant to encourage transparency by federal agencies—and the substance of what the author gleaned about biological warfare. To lighten a relentlessly downbeat narrative, Baker, ever articulate and witty, also introduces readers to his Maine home, which he shares with his wife and dogs, as well as the local weather, walks in the nearby wilderness, and other elements of his daily life. For readers who care about government openness, the narrative will be simultaneously illuminating and profoundly depressing. Because Congress failed to include enforcement mechanisms other than the possibility of time-consuming, expensive lawsuits, government agencies subject to the FIA violate it with impunity and suffer no penalties as a result. The custodians of the records often treat the documents as personal property rather than information financed, and thus owned, by taxpayers. The leading villains in Baker’s saga, which he aptly describes as “a sort of case study, or diary, or daily meditation, on the pathology of government secrecy,” are the Air Force, Army, and CIA, and his disclosures are rarely banal but rather consistently provocative and disturbing. Using both direct and circumstantial evidence, the author suggests that illegal weapons have been used against North Korea and perhaps against so-called enemy forces in other nations.

Readers should be impressed by Baker’s persistence, and most will end up charmed, however obliquely, by his obsessions.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1575-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more