More context would have been appreciated, but the choices are illuminating of an iconic artist.

EVER YOURS

THE ESSENTIAL LETTERS

The artist’s troubled life revealed in letters.

In 2009, an illustrated edition of hundreds of letters by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was published, annotated by specialists affiliated with the Van Gogh Museum. These letters now are available at vangoghletters.org, which is continually updated by the Van Gogh Letters Project. Scholars and researchers undoubtedly will consult the authoritative website, since this selection of 265 letters, aimed at general readers, contains few notes or explanatory material. The editors’ introduction contextualizes the letters somewhat by offering a helpful, but brief, overview of van Gogh’s life. The letters serve as a kind of autobiography, attesting to van Gogh’s engagement in art, his trials and aspirations, and, most vividly, his relationship with his younger brother Theo, to whom most letters are addressed. In the late 1870s, van Gogh was floundering, having worked at an art gallery, as a clerk in a bookstore and as an assistant teacher. Obsessed with religion, he decided to become a minister but failed at theology studies and at gaining admittance to a training course to become an evangelist. His volatility and mood swings so alarmed his parents that they considered committing him to a psychiatric hospital. Theo, heroically patient, encouraged his brother to pursue a career in art, which had interested Vincent since youth. By the fall of 1880, Vincent told Theo that he was “working like mad,” drawing, learning “a wealth of anatomy,” and hoping “that these thorns will bear white flowers in their time, and that this apparently sterile struggle is nothing other than a labour of giving birth.” The majority of the letters chronicle the artist’s final 10 years: his art studies in Antwerp and Paris, move to Arles, artistic admirations, and his deteriorating physical and mental health, which he blamed partly on a “too artistic way of life” and partly on “fatal inheritance.” His descriptions of his own paintings are poetically evocative, and his long, detailed, emotional outpourings offer insight into his suffering, loneliness and dreams.

More context would have been appreciated, but the choices are illuminating of an iconic artist.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-300-20947-1

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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