For readers who like to be challenged, this searching look at our recent history provides a firm intellectual and moral...

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THINKING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Two brilliant scholars parse the politics and economics of the past 100 years.

That could be a dry task, but for the quiet passion of Judt (The Memory Chalet, 2010, etc.) and Snyder (History/Yale Univ.; Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010, etc.), who spent most of 2009 talking about, in Snyder’s summary, “the limitations (and capacity for renewal) of political ideas, and the moral failures (and duties) of intellectuals in politics.” The authors consider these questions within the framework of 20th-century history and the biography of Judt, who died in 2010. Born in London in 1948, the son of immigrant Jews, Judt grew up with the modern welfare state, benefiting from its meritocratic educational system to attend Cambridge and pursue academic studies focused first on French history, then Eastern Europe after World War II. He was an ardent youthful Zionist who later severely criticized Israeli policies, creating a furor in 2003 with an essay arguing for a one-state solution to the Palestinian problem. Judt reluctantly took on the role of public intellectual because of a sense—clearly shared by Snyder, their conversations reveal—that the problems currently plaguing America in particular and the advanced industrial economies in general cannot be meaningfully addressed without understanding their deep roots in a history that stretches back to World War I. This history includes the ravages inflicted by unrestrained capitalism, the appeal and very similar failings of communism and fascism, the misguided uses to which the Holocaust has been put and the post-WWII social bargain that unraveled in the ’70s. Judt and Snyder analyze these and many other historical issues with lofty erudition matched by unabashed polemicism—Judt skewers David Brooks as a know-nothing and characterizes Thomas Friedman’s support of the Iraq war as “contemptible”). Social democracy has rarely had better-informed, more ethically rigorous advocates than these two distinguished men.

For readers who like to be challenged, this searching look at our recent history provides a firm intellectual and moral foundation for understanding the dilemmas of our time.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-323-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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