THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WALTER BENJAMIN, 1910-1940

Demanding yet eloquent and immensely rewarding personal documents of one of the century's leading literary and aesthetic critics. It's the grimmest of ironies that one of the earliest letters here should find the young philosopher standing metaphorically ``at a border crossing''—for Benjamin would end his life by his own despairing hand at a Spanish frontier post in 1940, his entry barred as he fled the advancing Nazi armies. Yet that image of the perpetual traveler on the threshold well suits the writer portrayed in these letters: equally a self-professed materialist devoted to the modern age and a bibliophile immersed in the literary past; close to many circles—Adorno and the Frankfurt School, Brecht's literary collective, Gershom Scholem's Zionism (the three men were among his correspondents, as well)—yet fully a member of none; a voracious consumer of the world yet always something of an outsider. The most bleakly memorable section here is the letters- -almost half the total—recording Benjamin's long and lonely years of exile, beginning with Hitler's seizure of power and ending with his own death. Here Benjamin faces up to his own uncertain prospects, as the material means for his work—living space, even the writing paper he coveted—dwindle and vanish. Constantly changing postmarks bear witness to his peripatetic and increasingly desperate search for refuge; above all, he bears witness to his growing sense of emotional and intellectual isolation. Yet he sets to his work, ``the shelter I step beneath when the weather grows rough outside,'' to recover something from the very culture whose collapse is about to engulf him—a quixotic venture that nevertheless compels our admiration. Unfortunately, this volume—simply a translation, with no new editorial apparatus, of the 30-year-old German edition—is a little unforgiving on the general reader: It's a shame the publisher hasn't supplied more biographical, historical, and cultural context to encourage nonspecialists to make Benjamin's fascinating acquaintance.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-226-04237-5

Page Count: 680

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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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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