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Literate and witty, full of memorable moments and keenly observed details: both wonderfully entertaining and highly...

A superbly realized account of travels into Asia Incognita.

These days, it seems, more and more travel narratives follow in the footsteps of long-ago wanderers, as latter-day writers follow the trails of Melville, Stevenson, Marco Polo, or even Bruce Chatwin. One-time New York Times foreign correspondent and Time magazine Beijing bureau chief Bernstein (Dictatorship of Virtue, 1994, etc.) selected a more obscure predecessor than most: a seventh-century Buddhist monk named Hsuan Tsang—“or Xuan Zang, or Hiuen Tsiang, or Hiouen Thsang, or Huan Chwang, or even Yuan Chwang (depending on the system used to transcribe Chinese into Roman letters)”—who traveled from the T’ang dynasty capital of X’ian west across Hun-ruled Central Asia and thence southward to the holy cities of India. Having written critically of the Chinese government, Bernstein feared official interference at every turn; he happened to be in China in the aftermath of the supposedly accidental US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia; and his route, following Hsuan Tsang’s, passed through lands troubled then and now by all manner of ethnic and religious conflict. Even so, he encountered few difficulties anywhere along his course, even in the most fantastically remote corners of Asia. His story is full of adventure and misadventure all the same, mostly involving miscalculations and cultural misunderstandings that the author cheerfully admits were usually of his own doing. He lets Hsuan Tsang go unmentioned for long stretches of the book, but the trail never goes cold, and Bernstein’s memoir supplies not only travelogue of a very sophisticated (and often humorous and poetic) order, but also ample asides on history, politics, economics, geography, and Buddhist doctrine.

Literate and witty, full of memorable moments and keenly observed details: both wonderfully entertaining and highly instructive.

Pub Date: March 20, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40009-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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