A memoir by a courageous psychiatrist and National Book Award winner whose life's work has been the study of why fundamentally decent individuals commit evil acts.

In 1958, after serving in Japan as a military psychiatrist, Lifton (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School; Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World, 2003; etc.) had the opportunity to interview American servicemen captured during the Korean war by the Chinese, who "had managed, at least temporarily, to gain considerable control over [their] minds.” In his discussions with the soldiers, and with missionaries and Chinese intellectuals who had fled the mainland and were living in Hong Kong, the author recognized that at another level, this same thought-control process that had been inflicted upon the entire Chinese population over decades. This was the subject of his first book and became the catalyst for a shift in his life from his intended career as a Freudian psychoanalyst to becoming what he calls a "psychohistorical researcher"—part of the informal but influential group of social scientists that included Erik Erikson and David Riesman. Lifton writes that it was his work with Hiroshima survivors that "was the shock that permanently changed [his] way of relating to the world." It became his prism for judging "conflicts between nations and groups, political violence of any kind, and even psychological struggles of individual people.” It also informed his studies of the participation of German doctors in the extermination of Jews in concentration camps, the My Lai massacre of civilians by U.S. troops in Vietnam and the more recent examples of the use of torture by U.S. soldiers against enemy combatants—all of which exemplify how average people can be led by circumstance to commit atrocities. A call for a moral awakening by a deeply compassionate chronicler of our times.


Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9076-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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