Stothard is certainly a unique stylist, but the structure and mystifying detail of British politics and personalities may be...

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THE SENECANS

FOUR MEN AND MARGARET THATCHER

Elegiac memoir of the Tories’ heady heyday in the 1980s among the court of Margaret Thatcher.

When Stothard (Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra, 2013, etc.), the former editor of the Times Literary Supplement and a devoted classicist, first met Thatcher in 1985, he was still a junior editor at the Times. She was just into her second term as prime minister and was busy cultivating a sycophantic court of powerful men, whom Stothard would soon get to know intimately—specifically, the four “Senecans” of the title who would eventually form a Latin-reading group meeting weekly at a pub in London. Framed somewhat stiltedly as a series of interviews with a young historian, “Miss R,” who was doing a “project” on Thatcher’s era in power, conducted between June and August 2014 as Stothard, then TLS editor, was emptying his office on Thomas More Square in preparation for the company’s move, this memoir celebrates the four now-deceased men—political adviser David Hart, journalist Frank Johnson, playwright and speechwriter Ronald Millar, and playwright Woodrow Wyatt—as versions of Seneca, a Latin writer who became a kind of political speechwriter for the powerful Roman emperor Nero. Seneca, the Stoic whose work partly comprised the group’s Latin lessons at the pub, wrote about everything from exchanging favors to “how to survive in dangerous times, how to live a good life in even the worst of times.” In these interviews, as Stothard and Miss R gaze down on the old newspaper building (in the process of being razed) that had been the site of violent confrontations between the government and the unions during the 1980s, the author contemplates the passing of his brilliant, disputatious friends and mourns an entire era as well as his own youth and newspaper career.

Stothard is certainly a unique stylist, but the structure and mystifying detail of British politics and personalities may be a tough sell for many American readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1342-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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