TRIALS OF INTIMACY

LOVE AND LOSS IN THE BEECHER-TILTON SCANDAL

The 1875 civil trial of cleric Henry Ward Beecher for adultery and alienation of affection was to its era what the O.J. Simpson trial has been to ours—a never-ending source of confusion, position taking, division, and even, occasionally, clarification of conviction and belief. Now, long awaiting the right historian, this 19th-century scandal has finally found him. Containing all the ingredients of a classic novel, this affair of heart and mind (though probably not of body) between one of the nation’s most respected and influential preachers and his parishioner, Elizabeth Tilton, wife of Beecher’s intimate friend Theodore Tilton, riveted the nation’s attention during the high tide of American Victorianism. Fox (Boston Univ.), an accomplished student of American culture and religion (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1986, etc.), draws from the scandal every conceivable element of historical significance. And while remaining sympathetic to all its complex, accomplished, sometimes outsize characters and, to boot, telling a whopping good tale, he stands at a critic’s due distance from his sources and from previous commentators on them. In Fox’s hands, it is a story both of love exalted, tried, and betrayed and of how fiction, as well as religion, gave meaning to contemporary lives. While firmly a historian’s book, it is, as a narrative of many narratives, also deeply marked by the postmodern approach that offers readers many views and many readings of each event—not all of equal plausibility or validity (for here the historian steps in), but of equal historical interest, significance, and meaning. The scandal occurred at, and accelerated, the moment when Victorian culture was poised to dissolve into more recognizably modern, 20th-century mass culture. Scandal became entertainment, private acts became public possessions, and norms became “values.” At times Fox comes dangerously close to loading his tale with so many kinds of significance that it snaps, yet he skillfully holds it together until the end. A compelling analysis, written by a master hand, of a major event in American culture. (56 photos, not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-226-25938-2

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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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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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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