Filled with some good popular science, but to find it you have to wend through Bentley’s over-the-top idea of a really bad...

WHY SH*T HAPPENS

THE SCIENCE OF A REALLY BAD DAY

Things go relentlessly, inexorably wrong in this account of a day in the life of a hapless hero who should have stayed in bed.

Bentley (Computer Science/University College London; The Book of Numbers, 2008, etc.) begins with his hero’s failure to hear the alarm clock, a mishap the author uses to discourse on human sleep and dreaming. Next comes a fall from slipping on shampoo in the bathroom and a chance to explain what makes soap soap. (It’s a marriage of alkali and oil that allows soap molecules to wrap up oil and grease from your skin while letting dirt dissolve in water.) What follows is the inevitable nick while shaving, and Bentley’s exegesis on skin, hair follicles and blood-clotting mechanisms, and why blotting with tissue not only can introduce bacteria to the cut, but also disrupt the cells trying to close the wound. And so it goes through several dozen brief chapters that chart more examples of Murphy’s law at work. There’s burnt toast for breakfast. A tank full of diesel fuel instead of gasoline. Another fall while running after the bus. Chewing gum that gets in his hair during the ride. A missed stop. Getting soaked by rain. Lost. Stung by a bee. Of course there are more problems at the office, like liquid spilled on the keyboard and computer viruses. Then our hero arrives home and promptly spills red wine on the rug. Does this seem a bit contrived? It is. All this sh*t is simply the means by which Bentley can disgorge his vast knowledge. Along the way he offers a very brief discussion of the origin of water and similarly brief briefs on the immune system and the sense of pain. Nonetheless, the author is solid in his discussions of modern technology—cell phones, CDs, glues, dyes, springy (“air-filled’’) sneakers—and he even offers helpful tips (see wine stains, for example).

Filled with some good popular science, but to find it you have to wend through Bentley’s over-the-top idea of a really bad day.

Pub Date: March 3, 2009

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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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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