While lively and chock-full of eye-opening tidbits, the book’s simultaneous coverage of firefighting history, Twain and...

BLACK FIRE

THE TRUE STORY OF THE ORIGINAL TOM SAWYER--AND OF THE MYSTERIOUS FIRES THAT BAPTIZED GOLD RUSH-ERA SAN FRANCISCO

True-crime veteran Graysmith (The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower, 2010, etc.) uses Mark Twain’s most famous character as a springboard for exploring San Francisco’s rocky beginnings as a boomtown plagued with crime.

For anyone who believes that the City by the Bay has always been a peace-and-love destination renowned for its bridges, seals and winding streets, this book will prove to be a wake-up call. Graysmith re-creates the lawless decade that began with the 1849 Gold Rush and the attendant lack of infrastructure that turned the city into a literal hotbed—in less than two years, an arsonist and his accomplices burned it to the ground on six different occasions. In their haste to get rich, prospectors had erected flimsy structures that practically beckoned firebugs to strike matches. Gangs stalked the streets, harassing, robbing and even killing citizens. The streets themselves were cobbled together from wooden planks and glass bottles, making the work of firefighters and police extremely difficult. Into this melee strode young Tom Sawyer, a former New York volunteer fireman who had gone west to seek his fortune. In the days before steam engines and gas lamps, a corps of boys ran ahead of the hand-pumpered fire trucks with torches to light the way through San Francisco’s treacherous streets. As one of the most loyal and dedicated torch boys, Sawyer caught the eye of visiting writer Mark Twain; the two became fast friends, with Twain mining Sawyer’s adventurous past for his novel. Graysmith also peoples this rich and sometimes overwhelming account with a bevy of characters instrumental in rebuilding San Francisco in the wake of each successive blaze.

While lively and chock-full of eye-opening tidbits, the book’s simultaneous coverage of firefighting history, Twain and Sawyer’s relationship, and crooked political alliances, along with its zigzagging timeline, threaten to deluge readers with details.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-72056-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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