Stiles digs deep to deliver genuine insight into a man who never adapted to modernity. The author confirms, but perhaps...

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CUSTER'S TRIALS

A LIFE ON THE FRONTIER OF A NEW AMERICA

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Stiles (The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, 2009, etc.) gives a warts-and-all portrait of Gen. George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), giving full rein to both his admirers and critics.

Custer graduated at the bottom of his West Point class in 1861 with the most demerits of any of the students. Only the demerits foreshadowed the brilliant tactician’s future. In the first half of the book, the author provides an excellent chronicle of Civil War battles and the politics of war. Custer’s undisputed prowess as a cavalry officer in the war fed his ambitions. He gained a place on George McClellan’s staff that would prove especially deleterious. His flamboyance, velvet uniform, and slouching hat might have made him a laughingstock, but his ability was real and his courage, sincere. His knowledge of tactics and ability to read his environment gained him promotions and celebrity. He led from the front, but he was incapable of management. His postwar assignments in Texas and Kansas brought out the cruel, tyrannical man who abused and humiliated his men. His published writings chronicle his fascination with natural history, but they provided little income. He dabbled in the railroads and a silver mine venture, and he gambled on stock speculation. Stiles ably points out his many defining flaws: his heroic style didn’t work in an era of tact and skill, and there is no doubt that he was self-serving, generally assuming that rules weren’t made for him and never showing remorse. In addition to examining Custer’s life, the author also introduces his cook, the fascinating Eliza Brown, an escaped slave who deserves a biography of her own.

Stiles digs deep to deliver genuine insight into a man who never adapted to modernity. The author confirms, but perhaps excuses, the worldview of the “boy general with the golden locks.”

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-59264-4

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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