An entertaining, well-researched tale of a late-20th-century scandal.

THE LAST BARON

THE PARIS KIDNAPPING THAT BROUGHT DOWN AN EMPIRE

Fast-paced account of a late-1970s abduction in Paris that exposed rivalries, anger, and secrets.

Former Time Paris bureau chief Sancton was living in France in 1978 when he followed newspaper reports of the brash kidnapping of industrialist Baron Édouard-Jean Empain, whose huge empire comprised 174 companies in fields that included mining, banking, shipbuilding, armaments, and nuclear energy. Sancton’s brisk recounting of the abduction and its aftermath draws on Empain’s memoirs as well as those of Alain Caillol, convicted of masterminding the crime, who not only talked with Sancton, but eagerly gave him documents and clippings. These sources, along with trial testimony, reports, and additional interviews, enabled the author to create a palpable sense of the carrying out of the crime and Empain’s ordeal, which included the amputation of a fingertip, sent to his family. Empain’s conglomerate had been established by his grandfather, a titan of the belle epoque who managed vast holding companies and multinational investments and whose achievements included building the Paris Métro. By the end of the 19th century, Sancton writes, “the Empain group was a major player in the fields of transport, energy, finance, and civil engineering.” Born into luxury, Empain reveled in fast cars, glamorous women, and high-stakes gambling, habitually losing huge sums at his twice-weekly poker games and, in 1977, some 11 million francs at a casino in Cannes. However, the men who took part in the kidnapping, though “left-leaning and anti-capitalist,” were not aiming to make a political statement; they wanted a ransom of 80 million francs. As days turned into months, the kidnappers realized they would not achieve their goal. Sancton vividly chronicles the invasive publicity that cost Empain his marriage, the police investigators’ frustration and strategies, the machinations of rivalrous business associates who welcomed Empain’s disappearance, and the disclosures about his philandering and gambling that tainted Empain and his family.

An entertaining, well-researched tale of a late-20th-century scandal.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18380-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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