An engrossing biography that is highly relevant in today’s America.

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A penetrating portrait of a powerful Washington insider.

New York Times chief White House correspondent Baker and New Yorker staff writer Glasser bring political acumen and thorough research to their absorbing biography of James Addison Baker III (b. 1930), who served presidents Ford, Reagan, and both Bushes, decisively shaping American policies at home and abroad. Drawing on prodigious sources, including more than 210 interviews (70 hours with Baker), the authors offer a balanced view of a man praised for being pragmatic, scrupulously organized, and authoritative, and derided as manipulative, self-aggrandizing, and cynical. He habitually leaked information and “cunningly took credit for something he actually opposed in order to pocket a chit.” One political columnist noted, “taking responsibility isn’t Jim Baker’s style.” Born into an influential Texas family, he followed his father into corporate law, where he felt bored. In 1975, his longtime friend George H.W. Bush recommended him for undersecretary of commerce in Ford’s administration. His impressive political savvy led Ford to tap Baker to run his 1976 presidential campaign; although Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, Baker saw his own reputation rise. When Reagan took office in 1981, he made Baker his White House chief of staff. The authors portray Reagan as distracted and distant but also “a man of driving ambition and more calculation than his public image suggested.” Baker, too, was ambitious, and he could be ruthless in pursuing his goals. After running the White House, Baker became secretary of the treasury and, in George H.W. Bush’s administration, secretary of state. Although he spoke no foreign languages and had no international relations experience, he succeeded in helping to reunify Germany, organize a crucial Middle East peace conference, deal with the Iran-Contra scandal and Iraq’s incursion into Kuwait, and preside over the end of the Cold War. He later served as chief counsel for George W. Bush during the 2000 election recount. With Baker as their focus, the authors afford a sharp, insightful view into Washington dealmaking.

An engrossing biography that is highly relevant in today’s America.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54055-1

Page Count: 732

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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 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...


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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