THE AMATEUR

AN INDEPENDENT LIFE OF LETTERS

A collection of slyly humorous essays—more personal than political—about the evolution of a critic who will stop at nothing to pursue her chosen mÇtier. Lesser, founder and editor of the Threepenny Review and author of four previous books (A Director Calls: Stephen Daltry and the Theater, 1997, etc.), has decided now to reflect on her growth as a writer, intellectual, and obsessive connoisseur of the arts. In so doing, she reveals much about herself and her approach: Lesser seems to take in as much as she can, in as many different forms as possible, from literature and theater to dance and opera. In that respect, she’s truly “an eighteenth-century man of letters, though one who happens to be female and lives in twentieth-century Berkeley.” That self-description conveys something of the humanism of her critical perspective, though it doesn’t reveal much about the attendant personal journey required. Fortunately, Lesser fills in the gaps. Her essays address her formation at Harvard, Cambridge University, and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as her determined (and occasionally hysterical) journalistic pursuit of interview subjects. All of her pieces, even those with little bearing on literature, make for distracting reading: Lesser’s keen wit doesn’t shy from self-ridicule. Anyone who has spent too much time in academia, struggling to reconcile its internecine power struggles with their own idealism, may risk side ache here from too much laughter. Which isn—t to say that she means merely to entertain. Instead, Lesser also spends considerable time reflecting on the artists whose work has galvanized her, including choreographer Mark Morris and poet Thom Gunn. Although she doesn’t have the zaniness of, say, Beryl Bainbridge, Lesser does cast herself as a character in her own work, thereby making the life of a critic seem both nutty and joyous.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40402-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more