Applying the kid-glove treatment to his subjects, the author doesn’t unearth much that hasn’t been picked over before.

THE INTIMATE LIVES OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS

Popular historian Fleming (The Perils of Peace: America’s Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, 2007, etc.) takes a rosy look at the enduring marriages of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison, despite some dalliances, separations and extreme job pressure.

The author is determined to restore the honor to these great men, whose lives have been dissected ceaselessly for evidence of human fallibility—especially Jefferson, whose relationship with his slave Sally Hemings probably resulted in several children. Fleming doesn’t buy it, and he’s holding out for the results of DNA testing. Instead he underscores Jefferson’s tender devotion to Martha Skelton, who died after ten years of marriage in 1782, leaving him with only their daughter to comfort him. Washington, despite a youthful rejection, made a spectacular match in the wealthy widow Martha Custis and was put in charge of her 17,000-acre Virginia estate. The evidence shows he grew to love his sweet-tempered, practical wife, despite their inability to have children, while she found him a manly pillar of strength and a good stepfather to her children. Franklin had an “ungovernable sex drive” and married his landlord’s daughter Deborah, who was then forced to raise his illegitimate son as her own. She did not accompany him to Paris as emissary, and after she died he was a great favorite of the ladies, even proposing marriage to his beloved Madame Helvetius. In the chapters on Adams and Madison, their strong wives take over the narratives with a presidential agenda of their own—Abigail Adams as a protofeminist, and Dolly Madison as an inimitable hostess. Hamilton married a rich man’s daughter, flirted with his sister-in-law, indulged in a seduction by a speculator’s wife and was blackmailed by the husband. He died scrambling to repair the marriage and, we are assured, racked by guilt.

Applying the kid-glove treatment to his subjects, the author doesn’t unearth much that hasn’t been picked over before.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-113912-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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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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