An intimate look at life in tumultuous times.



Americans’ struggle for freedom and independence affected a wide range of individuals.

Aiming to reveal the reality of life in the Colonies and Britain before and during the Revolution, Shorto (Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, 2013, etc.) focuses on six different people: George Washington; British aristocrat and statesman George Germain, Lord Sackville; Venture Smith, an African-born slave; Abraham Yates, a shoemaker who rose to become mayor of his native Albany, New York; Cornplanter, a Seneca warrior; and Margaret Coghlan, the American-born daughter of a British officer. Except for Washington and Sackville, the protagonists are little known, which affords the author a fresh and often fascinating perspective on 18th-century life. Drawing on memoirs, letters, archival material, and much historical writing, he fashions a brisk chronological narrative that jumps from one individual to another. Smith’s story is especially lively: a tall, strapping young man, he quickly learned “how to leverage his position” even though he was enslaved and managed to buy freedom for himself—and eventually for his wife and children. Settling in Stonington, Connecticut, he amassed considerable property, so much that when his former owner fell into bankruptcy, Smith offered him a mortgage on 100-plus acres of land, and, in the transaction, managed to provide an inheritance for his own son. Yates emerges as a complicated character: working for popular representation, nevertheless he was “convinced that government, any government, was a thing to be mistrusted,” growing ever more powerful, “always at the expense of individuals.” He was opposed to ratifying the Constitution because it gave the federal government “vast powers” and therefore was pleasantly surprised at the creation of the Bill of Rights, which ensured individual freedoms. Coghlan seems the most arbitrary—and unrepresentative—of Shorto’s choices: young, intelligent, and well bred, she was beautiful enough to attract many indulgent lovers in America and abroad, where she ended her life in penury. If Coghlan “felt the pull of freedom,” still Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem hardly seem to be her “ideological descendants.”

An intimate look at life in tumultuous times.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24554-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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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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