A wealth of natural history and a fine Napoleon biography.



A study of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life with an emphasis on horticulture that, believe it or not, works.

For sheer numbers, books on Napoleon (1769-1821) vie for first place with those on Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler, and other major historical figures, so there doesn’t seem to be an unexamined area of his life. However, historian and literary critic Scurr has found one. “Napoleon spent five years at the military school in Brienne-le-Chateau and six in St. Helena,” she writes. “These blocks of time enclose his life like bookends….In between his first and last gardens, the arc of his life rose toward the sky, before falling back down to earth.” There is no doubt that he paid a great deal of attention to a garden during his captivity on St. Helena, and a “highly embellished claim that he loved and tended a small garden at school” may not be wrong. Always fascinated by science, he established many of France’s educational institutions, museums, zoos, and botanical gardens that still exist, and he recruited a small army of scholars that accompanied him to Egypt during his 1798 invasion. Inevitably, as he accumulated power, he acquired land and properties—many abandoned and decayed since the French Revolution—and hired architects and gardeners to produce estates worthy of an emperor, a process to which his wife, Josephine, contributed enthusiastically (one of her goals “was to collect every variety of rose in the world”). Readers will learn a lot about the design and layout of the gardens as well as the controversy and expense involved. A diligent historian, Scurr does not ignore the wars and politics that dominated Napoleon’s life, and she concludes with a vivid account of the battle of Waterloo, in which the chateau of Hougoumont, with its “high garden walls,” played a central role. Those seeking more details will want a traditional work. Andrew Roberts’ 2014 biography should be the first choice, but this is a welcome addition to the literature.

A wealth of natural history and a fine Napoleon biography.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-241-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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