AUGUSTUS

In this crisply written and well-researched biography, Southern (librarian at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England) presents Octavian/Augustus as an opportunistic genius whose creation of the Roman Empire was more a matter of pragmatic adaptation to circumstance than adherence to a master plan. Octavian, the sickly kinsman of Julius Caesar who became the dictator’s confidant and adopted son, was one of the truly great figures of history. Achieving power at the end of over a century of violent turbulence that saw repeated civil wars among warlords, he created a form of government that preserved the forms of the old republic while allowing him to exercise absolute power over the Roman apparatus of state. Southern shows that, once Octavian was catapulted into prominence, this result was no accident: his unique blend of self-control, common sense, tact, careful calculation, and ruthlessness allowed him to take advantage of the turmoil that enveloped the Roman world after the assassination of his benefactor in 44 b.c. Aged just 19 when elevated to the consulship in 43 b.c., he used his constitutionally exalted office to strengthen his position both against his manifest enemies, the assassins of Julius Caesar who were allied with the senatorial aristocracy, and against his ostensible allies and fellow triumvirate members Marc Antony and Lepidus. Southern details Augustus’s brief and sanguinary role in the battle on both fronts. Following his victories, Octavian consolidated both his power and his prestige: he assumed the elevated name Augustus in 27 b.c., built strong military frontiers, and, while avoiding the trappings of kingship, wielded immense power behind innocuously republican-sounding offices like consul and princeps (first citizen). By the time of his death in 14 a.d., the Roman Senate and people had, seemingly willingly, abandoned all pretensions to republicanism, and constituted an empire in name and in fact. A concise and thoughtful contribution to the literature of one of history’s great turning points.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 1998

ISBN: 0-415-16631-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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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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