As essential as any political biography is likely to be.



The third of a projected five-volume political biography, this one dealing robustly with Lincoln’s political ascent, ending with his election to the presidency in 1860.

Blumenthal—who has served as a senior adviser to both Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Washington editor for the New Yorker—has published two earlier volumes in his series (Wrestling With His Angel, 2017, etc.). Here, the author continues to establish himself as the definitive chronicler of Lincoln’s political career. The years 1856-1860 were tumultuous ones in American history, and Blumenthal astutely examines many seminal events: slavery’s fracture of the country, the 1856 assault on Sen. Charles Sumner, the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s deadly attacks at Pottawatomie Creek, 1856, and Harpers Ferry, 1859, Lincoln’s transformative Cooper Union speech in 1860. Some crucial characters appear throughout, including Frederick Douglass, Emerson and Thoreau, Dred Scott, and John Wilkes Booth, who was present at Brown’s hanging and at some of Stephen A. Douglas’ presidential campaign appearances. Some facts will surprise readers with only a modest knowledge of Lincoln. For example, he didn’t like to be called “Abe” (he preferred “Lincoln”); listeners were sometimes put off by his voice, which could be high and squeaky; and he was masterful behind the scenes of his campaigns—he was, Blumenthal reminds us continually, a politician. Some will probably be surprised to learn that he did not leave his home in Springfield during the entire campaign and that he received less than 40 percent of the popular vote. The Democratic Party had split—North and South—thus assuring Lincoln’s victory. Blumenthal’s explorations of all of these elements are stunningly thorough, both wide-angled and microscopic. He quotes from newspapers, books, speeches, congressional transcripts, and numerous other sources. At the beginning, he includes a timeline of major events and cast of major characters.

As essential as any political biography is likely to be.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7728-3

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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