Unexceptional wisdom breezily packaged.


From a journalist and historian specializing in the lives of the Founders, lessons in leadership drawn from the plantation, military and political career of George Washington.

Washington’s colorful contemporary, Gouverneur Morris, disparaged books on leadership, dismissing them as merely “utopian,” a skepticism National Review senior editor Brookhiser (What Would the Founders Do?: Our Questions, Their Answers, 2006, etc.) appears to share. But the author forges ahead, addressing his theme in topical fashion, distilling a series of maxims from a variety of problems and situations Washington handled. The vignettes are always interesting: Washington insisting on the importance of proper latrines and inoculations to ensure the army’s health, diversifying crops at Mount Vernon, finessing the Continental Congress, putting down mutiny within the army and later rebellion within the young country, keeping the peace between Hamilton and Jefferson, dealing with the betrayal of Benedict Arnold. At the same time the “lessons” drawn from these and many other slices of Washington’s life are problematic, if only because they are so often contradictory. Washington observed lines of authority (deferring to the advice and consent of the Senate), except when he circumvented them (seeking funding for the army). He was patient (settling on a strategy for the war), except when he was bold (seizing the moment at Yorktown). He was a hands-on manager (of his plantation), unless he was wisely delegating (speeches to Madison, artillery chores to Knox or matters of high finance to Hamilton). He made use of friends (Lafayette) until he broke with them (Knox). By the end of Brookhiser’s colloquial, good-humored analysis, we’re persuaded that, while no leader in American history may be more worthy of emulation, the mature Washington’s signal virtue was his consistently sound, often spectacularly wise judgment, a faculty honed throughout a lifetime presiding over highly important matters and one not easily imitated. Apparently Gouverneur Morris was correct.

Unexceptional wisdom breezily packaged.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-465-00302-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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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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