A golden bowl, brimming full.

HOUSE OF WITS

AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF THE JAMES FAMILY

Stunning multigenerational portrait of one of the most complex families in American intellectual history.

It’s difficult to nudge aside brothers Henry (the novelist) and William (psychologist, philosopher, spiritual seeker) to accommodate lesser-known sister Alice and ne’er-do-well younger brothers Bob and Wilkie—not to mention parents Henry and Mary, Aunt Kate and such notable friends and acquaintances as Emerson, Thackeray, Wharton et al. But first-time author Fisher accomplishes the task with aplomb and panache. The book begins in 1855, as the peripatetic paterfamilias prepared to haul the entire entourage off to Europe. (Henry Sr. wanted his boys in Swiss schools, a hot desire that quickly cooled in the alpine air.) The author then retreats for 100 pages or so to sketch the family background before returning to the 1855 European sojourn. The complex demands of a multiple biography buttressed by the requisite social, cultural and literary history sometimes lead Fisher, as he shifts focus from one James to another, to rewind his tape to catch up on the doings of a James he’s neglected for a while. But he is careful with dates and places, so the potential for confusion is unrealized. Back and forth across the Atlantic we go, with Henry fils spending most of his career abroad, Alice settling in England eight years before her death and the rest of the clan making frequent visits. Henry Sr. is portrayed as a dominant, fiery intellectual presence, and the author properly accentuates Mary’s quiet strength. Alice, sickly and often depressed, struggled to establish her identity amid dominant men. Civil War veterans Bob and Wilkie moved West but failed to find either fame or fortune. William and Henry became cultural icons. Although Fisher discusses the Jameses’ publications and other enterprises, his focus is on them as a family, a collection of unique individuals who remained affectionate while envious, loyal and supportive even when continents and oceans separated them.

A golden bowl, brimming full.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7490-1

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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