Typically, Wolfe throws a Molotov cocktail at conventional wisdom in a book that won’t settle any argument but is sure to...

THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH

A fresh look at an old controversy, as a master provocateur suggests that human language renders the theory of evolution more like a fable than scientific fact.

Before he started focusing his energy on epic novels like The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), Wolfe delighted in making trouble with his cultural pronouncements, including one that labeled the novel itself an anachronism. Here, the author is in particularly delighted (and often delightful) form, as he targets “Charlie” Darwin and Noam Chomsky (no nickname) as overly influential figures with inflated reputations. What links the two in this short book that encapsulates some 150 years of scientific history is Wolfe’s contention that there is no evolutionary explanation for language, particularly abstract language, and that the pompous Chomsky has been exposed, at least in Wolfe’s estimation, as the emperor who has no clothes. “I could hardly believe that no licensed savant had ever pointed it out before,” he writes toward the conclusion. “There is a cardinal distinction between man and animal, a…dividing line as abrupt and immovable as a cliff: namely, speech.” As is typical with Wolfe, he finds considerations of class and fashion crucial to his argument. Darwin “freaked out” when he found himself “scooped” by a theorist considerably below his social station, one who “realized there was no way that he, all by himself on the wrong side of the class divide, was going to prevail against the Gentlemen.” Chomsky faced a “clueless outsider who crashes the party of the big thinkers” yet who provides persuasive evidence so that Chomsky’s insistence that language was “innate” in evolved humans and that there was such thing as a “universal grammar” was subsequently dismissed as “half-baked twaddle.” If language isn’t part of the evolutionary process, how did it come to be developed by humans alone?

Typically, Wolfe throws a Molotov cocktail at conventional wisdom in a book that won’t settle any argument but is sure to start some.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-26996-4

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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