by R.B. Bernstein ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 1, 2020
A thoughtful account of John Adams’ ideas and life, warts and all.
John Adams (1735-1826) does not lack biographies, but this book by a fellow lawyer delivers provocative insights and makes clear why he remains our least charismatic Founding Father.
Lacking Washington’s gravitas or Jefferson’s or Madison’s political acumen, Adams excelled as a prosecutor—pointing out British offenses against American rights in the 1774-1777 Continental Congress—and as a constitutional scholar. Bernstein agrees with historians that his major contribution to the republic was the American system of government. Unlike Jefferson and Paine, who claimed that whatever government the common people chose would be perfect, Adams insisted that humans were selfish, competitive, and envious. His solution was our present balance-of-power structure of executive-legislative-judiciary. His career may have peaked during the Continental Congress, where he led the fight for independence. Jefferson later called Adams “our Colossus on the floor.” Sent to France in 1778, he irritated its government by pushing American interests more aggressively than the far more agreeable Benjamin Franklin. They didn’t get along; indeed, it seems that not getting along with people was an Adams specialty. He spent an unhappy eight years as vice president, an unexpectedly powerless office, and “narrowly” won the 1796 presidential election. Entering office in 1797, Adams kept Washington’s cabinet almost intact. A mediocre group, they preferred Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton to the new president. On some issues, they publicly disagreed with Adams and worked against his policies. Equally disloyal, Vice President Jefferson spent his term campaigning for the 1800 election. Adams left office bitter and unpopular. It is only in the last 50 years that scholars have agreed that his political ideas reveal more insights into the real world than competing Founding Fathers. David McCullough’s bestselling 2001 biography smooths out many rough edges that Bernstein does not ignore in this more balanced rehabilitation.A thoughtful account of John Adams’ ideas and life, warts and all.
Pub Date: June 1, 2020
Page Count: 344
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020
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by Robert Greene ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1998
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
Page Count: 430
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998
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BOOK TO SCREEN
by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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