ALIX AND NICKY

THE PASSION OF THE LAST TSAR AND TSARINA

The intimate correspondence between Nicholas and Alexandra exposes the political naiveté of the ill-fated Romanovs while revealing their deep, loving relationship.

The late 19th century witnessed a spate of assassinations in Russia, which caused the royals to avoid appearing in public unless absolutely necessary. Nicholas avoided confrontation by quietly listening, nodding and smiling, while completely ignoring the advice of his counselors. In an attempt to understand his strange lack of action and/or reaction and to confirm her perception of him, Rounding (Catherine the Great, 2007, etc.) participated in several online personality tests in the guise of Nicholas. Alexandra most likely suffered from Porphyria, and her paranoia, depression and hysteria, as well as the physical symptoms that kept her in bed, separated her not only from her people but also from her own family. Communications, even with her children, were in little notes exchanged almost on a daily basis exhorting them to better themselves and not to upset her. Rounding’s story is built on the letters, especially those between the czar and czarina throughout their marriage. The letters leave no doubt that the two loved each other very much, even to the point of lightly disguised sexual references in their correspondence. The author does not provide an explanation of how Philippe Vachot and his successor, Rasputin, managed to work their way into the family, and the connection of Alix’s dearest friend, Ania Vyrubova, is also indeterminate. The implication is that Ania fancied herself madly in love with the czar, even writing long love letters (destroyed upon receipt) to him. Ania became extremely close to the couple and managed to control them with her constant demands. References to Ania, Philippe and, especially, Rasputin give an indication of how much her “friends” influenced Alix. Rasputin was treated as a godlike seer, influencing even the conduct of World War I battles.  The author’s strong background in Russian history and meticulous research establish her as an excellent biographer, although taking the personality tests in the guise of the Czar could be construed as somewhat presumptive.  

 

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-38100-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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