An illuminating biography of “an intelligent and thoughtful man.”



The life and times of a Spanish monarch who invigorated cultural life.

For more than 30 years, Alfonso X (1221-1284) reigned over a country beset by divisiveness, strife, and uncertainty. As Doubleday (History/Hofstra Univ.; co-editor: Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice, 2011, etc.) portrays him in this deeply researched history, Alfonso aspired to be a “teacher to his people,” ensuring “not only their political unity but also their happiness and well-being.” Kings, Alfonso believed, “resemble a mirror in which men view their own images.” He hoped to reflect “a Solomon…bequeathing his wisdom to his subjects and to future generations.” Literate in history, science, and the arts, Alfonso wrote texts that long survived him: songs, works on astronomy and astrology, and a legal and philosophical tract that influenced United States law into the 19th century. He aimed to institute reforms that would mark “a first step away from an older feudal order” to a rational, centralized government in which “the king and people had mutual obligations.” Central to Alfonso’s beliefs was the importance of happiness. He promoted games and sport, incorporated comedy in his religious songs, and delighted in dirty jokes. Laughter, he believed, was “good medicine.” Doubleday helpfully contextualizes Alfonso’s convictions and actions. He explores, for example, the place of humor in medieval culture; the meaning of friendship; attitudes about fatherhood; and assumptions about planetary and astral influence on human life. He asserts that Alfonso created a Castilian Renaissance centuries before the more famous Italian artistic flourishing, but he is also clear about the king’s shortcomings. Challenged by Muslim rebellion, roiling European politics, betrayal by family and friends, and repeated thwarting of his campaign to become Holy Roman emperor, Alfonso could be rash, vindictive, and manipulative. Drawing on Alfonso’s writings, contemporary—often contradictory—sources, and much scholarship, Doubleday has created a measured, persuasive history of a king and his precarious times.

An illuminating biography of “an intelligent and thoughtful man.”

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-06699-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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