Another rich, readable examination of the intersections where culture and science meet from a scrupulous historian who never...

THE INVENTION OF AIR

A STORY OF SCIENCE, FAITH, REVOLUTION, AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICA

Arresting account of the career of Joseph Priestley (1733–1804)—scientist, political polemicist, preacher, radical and friend of the American and French revolutions.

The subtitle is no throwaway: Johnson (The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, 2006, etc.) takes a close look at what in Priestley’s time were the overlapping domains of science, religion and politics. He notes, for example, that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were Priestley’s friends, applied the principle of reason to the most serious questions of the time, an approach that ignited decades of revolution and backlash. Priestley’s radical views eventually forced him into exile after an angry mob burned and destroyed his home and laboratory in 1791. He died in America, his friendship with Jefferson deepening in his final years. Johnson opens the book with the image of waterspouts viewed by Priestley aboard the ship bringing him to America; the author revisits this image later when he compares waterspouts to mobs of marauding humans. Johnson examines Priestley’s great strengths, among them his curiosity about the plainest things in view, which were often the most unexplainable. He also notes that Priestley came along at a most propitious time. Scientific equipment was becoming more sophisticated, enabling him to conduct his foundational experiments with oxygen, while the improving English economy and a supportive spouse provided him with essential leisure. Johnson employs his customary digressiveness to great effect, with asides on the importance of coffee to the Enlightenment, on the significance of England’s vast coal deposits, and on Lavoisier’s improvements of the French gunpowder that powered the American Revolution. Priestley questioned religious mysticism, the magical view of Jesus and the worship of saints and relics, the author notes, but never abandoned his fundamental belief in God.

Another rich, readable examination of the intersections where culture and science meet from a scrupulous historian who never offers easy answers to troubling, perhaps intractable questions.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59448-852-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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