A rather dull memoir from a gifted writer.



A young man heads for the hills to experience solitude.

Cognetti follows up his international bestselling novel, The Eight Mountains (2018), with this amiable and pleasant but lackluster memoir. At the age of 30, writes the author, he was “drained, disoriented, and disillusioned,” and he yearned to “recover an old and deep-seated [self] I felt that I had lost.” Inspired by Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Thoreau—“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately...”—Cognetti set off for the Alps in search of his lost, “wild” boy-ness. However, readers take note: There will be no exciting near-death experiences here, just reflective thoughts. The author rented a small hut in the lower Alps, some 6,000 feet above sea level in the Valle d’Aosta. He tells his story chronologically, from winter, the “season of sleep,” to the “solitude and observation” of spring, to summer, the “season of friendship and adventure,” to autumn, the “season of writing.” After settling, Cognetti began to explore, but the landscape felt “artificial.” There’s “no such thing as wilderness in the Alps, only a long history of human presence that is experiencing today an era of abandonment.” After dealing with some mid-May snow, the author encountered his first guest, his landlord, Remigio. As the snow melted, Cognetti chopped wood and planted a vegetable garden. He observed the wildlife around him, including eagles, hares, marmots, chamois, and roe deer. When the shepherds returned to their pastures with cows, he made new friends. Eventually, he realized he “wasn’t cut out to be a hermit.” We read about his walks, preparing meals, enjoying wine; and still, “I had not learned how to be alone.” In autumn, he began writing in his notebook and hid some notes “in broken rocks, in the split bark of trees, so that my words would still be there after I’d gone.”

A rather dull memoir from a gifted writer.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9671-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Washington Square Press/Atria

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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