Reflects its subject’s passionate interests and makes scholarship positively sexy.

THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA

JOSEPH NEEDHAM AND THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE

Another formidable, absorbing reading experience by versatile Winchester (A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, 2005, etc.), this one about the British scholar who made China’s contributions to civilization known in the West.

Displaying the author’s habitual ability to make any subject seem urgently momentous, this admiring biography of Joseph Needham (1900–95) will send many readers rushing off to read Needham’s magnum opus, Science and Civilization in China, which catalogued the ancient empire’s many inventions and discoveries in an ever-expanding series of volumes beginning in 1954. When the Cambridge biochemist first visited in 1943, most outsiders viewed civil-war-torn, Japanese-occupied China with what Winchester describes as “a mixture of disdain, contempt, and utter exasperation.” Invited on an official mission to bolster the beleaguered scientific community, Needham already had a very different attitude, fostered by his lover and fellow biochemist, Lu Gwei-djen. She had come to Cambridge from Nanjing in 1937, just after the Japanese invasion, and “in falling headlong for Gwei-djen, Needham found that he also became enraptured by her country.” She taught him to read, write and speak her language, which stood Needham in good stead during his three years traveling to some of the country’s remotest regions, reveling in such marvels as the man-made cave in the Turkestan desert where the world’s oldest printed book had been found in 1907. This adventurous period ended with his departure for England to help establish the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, intended to promote the kind of international cooperation in which he fervently believed. Cold War strictures soon led the staunchly socialist Needham to resign and return to Cambridge, where he devoted the next five decades to detailing China’s historic innovations (gunpowder, printing and the compass, to name a few) and asking why these astonishing accomplishments failed to develop a modern, industrial state.

Reflects its subject’s passionate interests and makes scholarship positively sexy.

Pub Date: May 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-088459-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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