A well-researched and thoroughly entertaining dual biography.

PLAYING TO THE GODS

SARAH BERNHARDT, ELEONORA DUSE, AND THE RIVALRY THAT CHANGED ACTING FOREVER

A filmmaker and screenwriter’s biographical account of two 19th-century theater divas and their fabled feud.

As Rader (Mike Wallace: A Life, 2012) notes, before the rise of French acting superstar Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) in the 1860s, popular theater was little more than a vaudevillian “social experience.” Actors earned neither money nor respect for their work. Bold and charismatic, Bernhardt took the “highly stylized” art of acting, which portrayed archetypes rather than real human beings, to a level never seen before. Her efforts and her eccentricities—e.g., traveling with a pet alligator and sleeping in a coffin—along with her scandalous affairs, earned the French actress wealth, fame, and legions of adoring fans all over the world. While the world reveled in the on- and offstage antics of “The Divine One,” Eleonora Duse (1858-1924), an actress 14 years Bernhardt’s junior, was gaining national attention in Italian newspapers. The flamboyant Bernhardt’s temperamental opposite, Duse gravitated toward naturalistic stage representations and portrayed her characters as “multidimensional, shaded, and complex” figures. Duse first saw Bernhardt appear in an 1882 production of her signature play, La Dame aux Camélias. Enchanted by the older actress’s talent and success, Duse made Bernhardt her role model. As critics across Europe began to take positive notice of Duse’s revolutionary acting methods, they also began to critique Bernhardt for her “dated style.” Soon the two divas began poaching plays, playwrights, and even lovers from each other. Before Bernhardt was able to perform playwright Giacomo Giacosa’s rendering of La Dame on Broadway in 1891, for example, Duse performed Giacosa’s translated version for Italian audiences first. Several years later, Bernhardt took poet and playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio—whom Duse adored like no other—as her lover. Delightfully readable and informative, Rader’s book examines a rivalry that defined modern theater while also exploring the origins of modern celebrity culture.

A well-researched and thoroughly entertaining dual biography.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3837-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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