Spectacularly told debunking of myth and legend surrounding China's last empress—the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835-1908)—by Seagrave (The Marcos Dynasty, 1988, etc.). Born the obscure daughter of an obscure Manchu officer in 1835, Tzu's notorious ride to fame and power began in the imperial concubinage in 1856, when she gave birth to a boy heir. Seagrave's aim here is primarily to destroy longstanding myths about this most powerful of Chinese women, myths created by Western imperialist adventurers of pen and sword who painted her as the Wicked Witch of the East. The author's primary target and culprit is the infamous British literary agent Edmund Backhouse. Living in China at the turn of the century, Backhouse apparently culled gossip and rumor and fabricated evidence in order to coauthor, with J.O.P. Bland, the influential 1910 book China Under the Dowager Empress—which, according to Seagrave, presented a ``bloodthirsty caricature'' of Tzu that mixed ``Western fantasy and Chinese pornography.'' Backhouse reported that Tzu's ascent to power included killing off enemies with poisoned cakes, keeping hordes of false eunuchs close at hand, and choreographing wild sexual escapades in the Imperial Palace—escapades to which Backhouse claimed invitation. Seagrave relies partly on Hugh Trevor-Roper's Hermit of Peking (1974) to expose Backhouse as a prurient fraud who willfully set out to create a fictitious empress who would satiate Western stereotypes of sex-starved Asian women and justify British adventuring inside China. Seagrave also exposes other Western writers—including Pearl Buck—who perpetuated Backhouse's seamy portrait. An engrossing, fact-filled read and masterful debunking of a troubling distortion of Chinese history. (Sixteen pages of illustrations—not seen.)

Pub Date: April 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-679-40230-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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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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