A solid contribution to the scholarship of this key figure of the French Revolution.

ROBESPIERRE

A REVOLUTIONARY LIFE

A meticulous but limited treatise on the life of one of France's most notorious revolutionaries.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794) was a young provincial lawyer who came to Paris as a representative of the Third Estate, and he remained to become a leader of the leftist Jacobins in the revolutionary National Convention. A spellbinding orator, he was immensely controversial, revered by many as "the Incorruptible" genius of the revolution, reviled by others as a would-be tyrant, and his popularity underwent wild swings. Robespierre began his career as an opponent of capital punishment but ended it obsessed with omnipresent treasonous conspiracies and meting out death without trial to perceived enemies of the state, declaring that "the mainspring of popular government…is at once virtue and terror." He has thus long been popularly execrated as the bloodthirsty architect of the "reign of terror" of 1793–94. McPhee (Living the French Revolution 1789–1799, 2006, etc.) strives to rehabilitate Robespierre somewhat, arguing that the sanguinary excesses of the period were necessary to sustain the revolution against attacks from without and within, and that Robespierre's role in them was later exaggerated by other deputies seeking to minimize their own culpability. Given Robespierre's savage rhetoric and his influence at the time, McPhee's attempts at exoneration are less than thoroughly persuasive. The author also gives more attention to Robespierre's formative years and pre-revolutionary activities than has been customary in previous biographies. This is a thorough and well-written account of Robespierre's life, but nothing more. It is not a history of the French Revolution, and readers without a general familiarity with the events of that upheaval will have difficulty placing Robespierre's activities in a larger context. Similarly, while Robespierre's every political shift and maneuver is set forth in careful detail, no other leaders or personalities stand out in this narrative; even giants like Georges Jacques Danton and Jean-Paul Marat have only walk-on roles.

A solid contribution to the scholarship of this key figure of the French Revolution.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-11811-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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