Well-reasoned and capably constructed.



Schlesinger (Political Journalism/Boston Univ.) confidently assesses the diverse contributions made by speechwriters toiling thanklessly on behalf of presidents from FDR to G.W. Bush.

With the advent of radio, Warren Harding became the first president to have a full-time speechwriter, although even George Washington asked someone else (James Madison) to help draft his farewell address. Schlesinger attributes the modern style of presidential communication to FDR, whose memorable slogans were variously coined by the speechwriting trio of Samuel Rosenman, Raymond Moley and Louis Howe, with Roosevelt weaving together their ideas. The author looks at each presidential style in turn. Truman, who delivered speeches awkwardly, used lawyers, economists and public-administration men such as Clark Clifford and George Elsey as his writers. Eisenhower, a stickler for good grammar, liked the “straightforward, meat-and-potatoes style” crafted by Bryce Harlow. Eisenhower’s team hired the first black speechwriter, Frederic Morrow, and coined the term “military-industrial complex” for his farewell speech. Ted Sorensen used short words with simplicity and clarity in his speeches for JFK, though his boss took the credit and often ad-libbed. (The author’s father, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., plays a strong supporting role in this chapter as a Kennedy aide and speechwriter.) Bill Moyers and Richard Goodwin merged the roles of writer and policymaker during their time with LBJ, forging a preferred style somewhere between eloquent and forceful. Nixon was an exacting writer and editor, never satisfied with the drafts he was given by Ray Price or William Safire. Ford allowed his top advisers to squabble over his speeches. Carter disastrously tried to write all his own, while Peggy Noonan famously helped establish Reagan as “the Great Communicator.” The first Bush eliminated personal detail from his speeches because he tended to choke up; Clinton was a master at ad-libbing. The “troika” of Michael Gerson, John McConnell and Matthew Scully gave Bush II “an axis of evil” to fulminate against. Schlesinger lingers over particular speeches good and bad, thereby offering a revealing look at the making of history.

Well-reasoned and capably constructed.

Pub Date: April 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9169-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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