A model portrait of person and place, a kind of cultural and literary geography that never fails to fascinate.

THE SEA VIEW HAS ME AGAIN

UWE JOHNSON IN SHEERNESS

Engrossing account of the exiled East German writer Uwe Johnson (1934-1984), who found an obscure shelter in a gray English backwater.

Wright, an accomplished interpreter of all things English, finds a site of frozen time in a bypassed place only 40-odd miles downriver from London, scorned by Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson for its “thousands and thousands of mobile homes, all of which I suspect belong to former London cabbies.” The Isle of Sheppey is indeed rather plain, emerging from the North Sea, Wright quips, “in a marshy and noncommittal kind of way.” Like so many edgelands, there was once a lot going on there, attested to by memories of a vast naval dockyard where a lucky survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade once worked; a half-sunken ship full of World War II ammunition that threatened to blow the town of Sheerness off the map; a hillside packed with the graves of Danes murdered at the behest of Aethelred the Unready “as an early ancestor of encroachment-hating Brexiteers”; and a rural schoolhouse once inhabited by a reformer who immigrated to Canada and became a feminist icon “who carried ancestral memories of Kentish radicalism with her as she campaigned for and among women farmers.” Into this milieu came Johnson, a curmudgeonly novelist who retained a Marxist vision even after fleeing East Germany—and who drank himself to death in Sheerness before the age of 50, “a man who wanted, by the end of his short life, to disappear into letters.” Johnson, whose magnum opus Anniversaries took decades to appear in English translation, found on Sheppey a rejoinder to his native Baltic coast, replete with Cold War vestiges (he descended into paranoia, convinced that his estranged wife was a spy). His grim determination to finish his late modernist masterpiece, despite his mental illness and alcoholism, befits the raw, forgotten places in which he lived.

A model portrait of person and place, a kind of cultural and literary geography that never fails to fascinate.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-912248-60-5

Page Count: 740

Publisher: Repeater Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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