The discontinuous history of an extended black family from New Orleans, which, for lack of authorial perspectives, amounts to little more than a dreary recital of harsh truths. In 1979, Bates (Writing/Harvard) met the clan's patriarch, Collis Phillips (then 70), at a New Orelans gym where the author had gone to learn boxing. In-your-face realities soon dashed Bates's prizefighting fantasies, but he became intrigued by the personable old trainer who had not discouraged him. Until Phillips died in 1989, Bates took a ringside seat at the Phillips family's rites of passage, learning much of their story. The father of six, Phillips had earned local celebrity as a club fighter during the Depression. While working as a trainer after WW II, though, he lost a leg as the result of a gunshot wound inflicted by an angry daughter—and he had scarcely better luck with his other children. One son committed suicide, and two others (including a middleweight contender) wound up sentenced to long terms in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. By and large, succeeding generations fared badly with either life or the law. Alcoholism, crime, divorce, drug addiction, illiteracy, jail, and menial jobs were the common denominators of their individual fates as fighting arenas, courtrooms, lockups, and public-housing projects circumscribed wasted lives that often ended in early graves. Here, Bates seems to believe that the mass of painful detail he has compiled, apparently at no small personal cost, speaks for itself. The accretion of grim particulars on essentially unsympathetic characters, however, soon becomes mind- numbing and, eventually, meaningless. Nor does it help that the author eschews interpretive commentary, engages in jolting time- shifts, and couples his own self-consciously literary style with intrusive attempts to reproduce the slurred speech of uneducated southern blacks. Although there's a certain interest to the overlong narrative's raw material, without any effort by Bates to shape it, the annals of the Phillips family are little more involving than matter-of-fact police reports.

Pub Date: May 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-25047-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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