A vivid chronicle of intellectual passion.

HEARING HOMER'S SONG

THE BRIEF LIFE AND BIG IDEA OF MILMAN PARRY

The story of a classics scholar who decisively changed views of Homer’s artistry.

Drawing on considerable archival sources, Kanigel recounts in thorough, engaging detail the life of Milman Parry (1902-1935), a Harvard classics professor whose investigation of Homer’s works proved groundbreaking. Because Parry was hard to know—colleagues recall the “impermeable steadfastness” of a man who shared little with anyone—Kanigel portrays him largely through the work that consumed him. Analyzing Homer’s epic poems for patterns of words and phrases, Parry argued that they were “born in song and speech,” not written but handed down orally. Rather than taking up the question of authorship—whether the Iliad and Odyssey were created by one person or several—Parry believed that they were part of a tradition that “placed scant premiums on invention or originality.” Often performed by illiterate singers, they were “forever altered in performance,” responding to listeners’ expectations about style and language. Kanigel chronicles Parry’s youth in Oakland, California; education at Berkeley, where he was influenced by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, among others; and completion of doctoral studies at the Sorbonne, where his thesis, published in 1928, “built a new intellectual edifice” and, through the efforts of his student Albert Lord, created the new discipline of oral studies. Beginning in 1933, Parry undertook extensive visits to Yugoslavia to find and record modern-day epic singers, returning with more than 1,000 recorded discs. While still an undergraduate, Parry married a fellow student after she became pregnant, but she was hardly a soul mate, and Kanigel uncovers evidence of her volatile personality and rage about her husband’s alleged infidelities. The quality of their marriage looms over the circumstances of Parry’s death: While he and his wife were in a Los Angeles hotel, he died of a gunshot wound. Ruled an accident, some family members—their daughter, for one—suspected that his wife killed him. As in previous books, Kanigel’s skill as a biographer is on full display, though general readers may get lost in some of the technical analysis.

A vivid chronicle of intellectual passion.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-52094-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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

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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

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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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