Elegant prose brings a rich cultural history alive.

THE BARBIZON

THE HOTEL THAT SET WOMEN FREE

A rare glimpse behind the doors of New York’s famous women-only residential hotel.

During the 1920s, young women began to flock to Manhattan, unbound by the restrictions of previous generations. After the Barbizon Hotel for Women opened in 1928, writes Vassar professor Bren, many women showed up “with a suitcase, reference letters, and hope.” Among them were aspiring writers, actors, and models who believed the Barbizon would provide a safe haven from which to launch their careers. Two floors were occupied by the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School, which sought to provide “a pathway for young women to find work.” Betsy Talbot Blackwell, editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle, encouraged those who participated in the magazine’s guest editor program to reside at the Barbizon, making its hallways a “shelter as well as a testing ground for generations of ambitious women.” As the reputation of the Barbizon grew, so did its demand. “It would become the landing pad,” writes the author, “the go-to destination for young women from all over the country determined to give their New York dreams a shot.” Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was “entirely based on her time at the Barbizon,” and other now-famous residents included Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Liza Minnelli, Grace Kelly, Joan Didion, and Meg Wolitzer. In the 1950s, women oscillated “between acting on their own dreams and following society’s expectations for them,” and the next decade spelled the end for the institution. “Ironically,” writes Bren, it was “the onset of the 1960s women’s movement that would sound the death knell for the Barbizon. The residential hotel built in the 1920s on the premise of women’s independence and the nurturing of their artistic talents and all-around ambition would become a casualty of that very same goal.” Drawing on extensive research, extant letters, and numerous interviews, Bren beautifully weaves together the political climate of the times and the illuminating personal stories of the Barbizon residents. Although some parts of the narrative are repetitive, particularly regarding Plath and Kelly, the book remains captivating.

Elegant prose brings a rich cultural history alive.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982123-89-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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