The political and social intrigues of Civil War Washington are given vivid, gossipy immediacy in an unusual treasury of letters from a member of a prominent Union family to her naval officer husband. A true insider, Elizabeth Blair Lee—daughter of Lincoln advisor Francis Preston Blair and sister of both Union general Frank Blair and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair—was privy to the most intimate workings of Union politics. But it is ``Lizzie'' herself, straightforward, opinionated, and insightful, who emerges most forcefully from these 368 journal-like letters to her ``Dear Phil,'' Samuel Phillips Lee, himself a distant cousin to Robert E. Lee. Far from embodying the myth of passive 19th-century womanhood, Lee is revealed as keen observer of the unfolding conflict, with a sparkling irreverence (referring to the disliked President Buchanan as ``Old Buck'' and the proud Jefferson Davis as ``King Jeff'') and a stubbornness that finds her tirelessly agitating to get her husband better ships (``Hot after a steamer for you today''), important postings, and confirmation as an admiral. Living on the edge of battle (``This morning at daylight the morning guns seem very loud to me...it was the Battle at Bull Run—30 miles off''), Lee busies herself with volunteer work and the affectionate education of her young son, offering along the way an unprecedented picture of life in Washington's inner circle. Although lacking the intellectual acuity of Confederate journal-keeper Mary Boykin Chesnut, Lee proves herself more than worthy of serious scholarly treatment. Editor Laas (History/Missouri Southern State College), though, despite obviously careful research, presents her material in unimaginative, almost perfunctory, form, with confusing, repetitive footnotes, and a lack of substantive aids (e.g., a family tree to keep the various Blairs and Lees straight; more frequent historical notes). A valuable academic document, if ill-constructed for a wider audience. (Sixteen pages of illustrations—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-252-01802-8

Page Count: 600

Publisher: Univ. of Illinois

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


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

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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

Did you like this book?