A masterfully simple and satisfying collection.

FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE

PEOPLE AND PLACES

A retrospective of the prolific writer’s essays, travel stories, and reflections.

In his latest work of nonfiction, Theroux (Mother Land, 2017, etc.) intersperses feature-length articles, essays, and celebrity portraits with miscellaneous shorter pieces on writing, love, and life, including one unforgettable character sketch of his enigmatic father. His many self-assigned subjects during this 15-year span include several complex and contradictory personalities, such as his close friend Hunter S. Thompson, “a boisterous recluse who also needed to be seen and heard,” and a professional dominatrix, “Nurse Wolf,” whom the author admires for her levelheadedness and her striking degree of empathy. When traveling abroad, Theroux prefers to be “humble, patient, solitary, anonymous, and alert,” and he downplays his own moderate celebrity, preferring public transit to state-sponsored tourism. Whether recounting a “drug tour” of the Amazon or describing the many guises of corruption and exploitation that he witnessed during the 1960s in Africa—he served in the Peace Corps in what is now Malawi—his stories are less travelogues than well-curated meditations on some of the places, people, and moments he has experienced in a lifetime of rambles. Although Theroux claims to avoid all contemporary novels, lest their voices intrude on his creative process, he portrays himself as the last in a long tradition of travel-writing novelists, among them Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad, whose work he enjoyed discussing with Michael Jackson. Theroux manages an easygoing, self-effacing presence in his essays, as though his ego were spent somewhere around his 15th novel, and he locates his often witless or mystified self squarely within the frame of each encounter. His spare, unhurried prose style, which is rarely long-winded, betrays a novelist’s relish for illuminating details and devastating turns of phrase. Yet despite his long and prolific career, Theroux still finds himself gobsmacked by wonder at what life has shown him, whether traipsing through the Neverland ranch with Elizabeth Taylor or trying to interview Robin Williams while caught up in the cloud of his obsessive, frenetic improvising.

A masterfully simple and satisfying collection.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-87030-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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