Charming and graceful but with rich undertones—like the courtesans themselves.




A joyful celebration of the lives of famous courtesans from early Rome to early Hollywood, with the emphasis on their strengths (and not what some might consider their moral lapses).

Like most of Griffin’s work (What Her Body Thought, 1999, etc.), even this reasonably light-hearted subject is dense with ideas about relationships, women’s independence, beauty, power, body, and soul. It is organized by the seven virtues attributed to the most successful courtesans—timing, beauty, cheek, brilliance, joie de vivre, grace, and charm—in that order. Dancing in and out of each chapter, sometimes literally, are tales of courtesans chosen to represent the virtue on the table. In the chapter on “Brilliance,” for instance, we meet 15th-century Venice’s Veronica Franco (an honored poet as well as an honored cortigiano), the 17th-century Ninon de Lenclos (renowned for her wit), and the 19th-century performer Emilienne d’Alencon (who “played the role of a bimbo brilliantly”). As in the other chapters, Griffin uses her theme to launch a riff on, in this case, brilliance. For instance, she reflects on the light in the paintings of Tintoretto, on spiritual illumination, on sensuality, and on the sparks of intellectual give-and-take that fire the imagination. Many of her subjects are the courtesans—Les Grandes Horizontales—who decorated 19th-century France. Among them were Marie Duplessis (the model for Alexander Dumas’s La Dame aux Camelias); La Belle Otero (who gambled away the considerable fortune she earned as a courtesan); and Liane de Pougy (who later entered a convent). Curiously, Griffin also includes Marion Davies and Marlene Dietrich, who, if not exactly courtesans, embodied the virtues of the femme gallante. An epilogue offers the end-of-life stories of the historic courtesans and a glossary lists terms familiar to the demimonde. Who knew there were so many synonyms for “courtesan”?

Charming and graceful but with rich undertones—like the courtesans themselves.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2001

ISBN: 0-7679-0450-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet