A heart-rending but informative end-of-life guide.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021

THE SMOOTH RIVER

FINDING INSPIRATION AND EXQUISITE BEAUTY DURING TERMINAL ILLNESS: LESSONS FROM THE FRONT LINE

In this debut memoir and self-help book, Cohen offers advice on how to approach life after a terminal diagnosis.

The author and his wife, Marcia, had been married 37 years in 2019 when she was told that she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and just 160 days later, she passed away. But before then, Cohen and his spouse, who specialized in crisis management, developed a way of thinking that they came to call the “Smooth River.” Over the course of this book, the author draws on his personal experience to explain this concept, which they used to convey to medical staff the necessity of a “well-ordered and tranquil ending.” This multifaceted approach recognizes how society rewards those who fight and disparages those who give up. However, rather than emphasize the idea that a person must “fight” cancer, the author suggests that society should show greater consideration to how that person wishes to be treated. It’s a gentle, open-minded approach to end-of-life management that involves setting flexible goals and cultivating positive thoughts, such as “We’re all going to die. I’m just going sooner than I expected, but I have a lot to be thankful for.” Cohen also highlights the importance of “seeing one’s life as bigger than one’s condition.” The book offers practical and specific advice along the way, noting the benefits of keeping an event log and addressing whether one should have a do-not-resuscitate directive. Appendices feature Marcia’s own log and book list as well as a list of useful online resources, such as palliative care organizations.

Cohen’s writing achieves a rare balance, as it’s both practical and sensitive in character. The author is unafraid to confront the grim truth of end-stage cancer but seeks out positivity at the same time: “While we may not be able to control how, if, or when we get [cancer]; how it behaves; or how effective treatment will be, we do have a choice.” Cohen’s message is particularly powerful in how it advocates the agency of patients and their family members at a time when they may feel powerless: “We could confine our focus to [Marcia’s] health alone and stay in a dark place, or we could try as best we could to make this time really count.” Cohen conveys deeply distressing moments with poetic beauty, as when he envisions Marcia’s final moments: “as she crossed the divide, I would be there to take her in when she was no longer able to breathe. And then, by way of some ethereal transference, I would breathe for her and carry on.” In this book, the author courageously and movingly approaches a subject that many readers would prefer not to face, and, in doing so, he effectively presents the reality of life after a terminal diagnosis. This tender and startlingly lucid work offers patients and their loved ones a wealth of knowledge, and it may also show physicians a new way to help people learn to cope with the prospect of dying.

A heart-rending but informative end-of-life guide.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73750-340-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Smooth River, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 20

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more