The inaugural book, on the remarkable half-decade that produced The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and “In the Penal Colony,” is...

KAFKA

THE EARLY YEARS

The final installment in German scholar Stach’s magisterial three-part biography (Kafka: The Years of Insight, 2013, etc.), covering, in appropriately Kafkaesque nonsequential fashion, the writer’s childhood and youth.

A preface by Frisch, the superb translator of all three volumes, explains that the peculiar order was dictated by lack of access to the archives of Max Brod, close friend and literary executor, whose extensive diaries concerning the crucial years of Kafka’s formative literary efforts only became available recently. Stach makes astute use of this material to assess the complicated relationship between Kafka and the gregarious, ambitious Brod, who could never understand why his talented friend was so reluctant to publish and agonizingly slow to produce. Stach’s examination of the years before the men met at university in 1902 suggests a few reasons, most having to do with the pressure to achieve placed on young Franz by his overbearing father, Hermann. This analysis is sometimes swamped by the enormous amount of background on everything from anti-Semitism as a function of rising Czech nationalism to the nature of education in the late 19th-century; these and other highly relevant subjects could have been covered more cogently. However, the abundance of detail enables Stach to paint a vivid picture of the history and culture of Prague, Kafka’s hometown and lifelong residence. His portrait of the artist is intimately knowing: Kafka seizes our attention as a man neurotic yet deeply self-aware, frail yet devoted to swimming and hiking, always holding himself at a social remove yet a frequent visitor to Prague’s wine bars and coffee shops. Most importantly, the author makes palpable Kafka’s perfectionist striving for a prose of surreal clarity, “the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

The inaugural book, on the remarkable half-decade that produced The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and “In the Penal Colony,” is still the best, but this slightly overstuffed volume completes an indispensable work about a key figure in 20th-century modernism.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-15198-4

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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