If crucifixions and ferocious street fighting no longer characterize contemporary politics, Plutarch’s rivalrous,...

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THE AGE OF CAESAR

FIVE ROMAN LIVES

The estimable Greek historian depicts ancient Rome’s violent politics.

Biographer and philosopher Plutarch (46-120 C.E.) aimed to reveal “the manifestations of a man’s soul” in his Parallel Lives, portrayals of major Greek and Roman historical figures. Set beside one another, these biographies, Plutarch hoped, would edify readers who sought moral self-improvement. From that work, classicist Romm (Classics/Bard Coll.; Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, 2014, etc.) has selected five Roman lives: military general Pompey; lawyer and orator Cicero; Caesar, central to all of these lives; his treacherous adversary Brutus; and his supporter Antony, a vainly handsome man “of princely dignity.” These biographies, Romm believes, offer “an immersion in the events of the classical past and an encounter with its greatest personalities.” An introduction by noted classical scholar Mary Beard and informative footnotes help to fill in that sense of the past, and a felicitous translation by Mensch makes Plutarch’s prose lively and accessible. The biographies are thrillingly dramatic, as Plutarch recounts savage battles, bloody betrayals, and constant political upheaval. Central to that upheaval was the murder of Caesar, after he declared himself “Dictator for Life,” by a cadre assembled by Brutus. After arrogantly reproaching petitioners, Caesar found himself surrounded by murderers. “Whichever way he turned he met with blows aimed at his face and eyes, and was driven here and there like a wild beast,” Plutarch wrote, “trapped in everyone’s hands.” Caesar was felled with 23 stab wounds, and some of the assassins themselves were wounded in the melee. Carried out in the name of liberation from Caesar’s tyrannical rule, the killing had the opposite effect, making the populace worship Caesar “as a god” and turn against the conspirators. Among other dramatically intense scenes, Cleopatra’s inconsolable grief after Antony’s death and her suicide by asp bite stand out.

If crucifixions and ferocious street fighting no longer characterize contemporary politics, Plutarch’s rivalrous, “inglorious” world in discomfiting ways echoes through our own time.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-29282-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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