An intermittently intriguing yet baroque investigation of an artist that leaves readers wanting more.



An examination of the works and influences of the German Renaissance painter.

In his latest, Hoare—the author of biographies of Stephen Tennant, Oscar Wilde, and Noël Coward, among other books—explores the works of renowned painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). The book features striking renditions of the artist’s popular paintings and sketches, but the text is florid and often difficult to follow, jumping from analyses of Dürer’s artwork to lengthy discussions of other individuals with little apparent connection to the artist. Furthermore, Hoare doesn’t include clear attributions when quoting the artist, and the connection between the artist and a whale, as indicated by the book’s title, is exaggerated. According to the author, Dürer sailed to Zeeland in hopes of viewing a whale; however, the trip was not a success, and whales never became a subject of his artwork. In an attempt to create a connection, Hoare digresses from his study of his biographical subject to the topic of whales, including discussions of Moby-Dick and the works of writers and other artists who depicted whales. (Readers interested in the author’s explorations of whales should consult his engaging 2010 book The Whale.) “Had Dürer seen even one whale,” writes Hoare, “his art would have preempted Melville’s mutterings about how you can’t tell the true nature of the whale from its bones alone, and how no one ever painted a less monstrous picture of a whale, despite the fact that the writer was born, half Dutch, in New Amsterdam, and claimed his eyes were tender as young sperms. The pale usher of Moby-Dick tells us the word whale came from the Dutch wallen, to roll, to wallow. We wallow in our ignorance.” For fans of art history, the portions of the book directly related to Dürer and how his interactions with nature influenced his art are fascinating.

An intermittently intriguing yet baroque investigation of an artist that leaves readers wanting more.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64313-726-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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