Plenty to ponder in this energetic, opinionated collection.



Sharp, trenchant essays from an enfant terrible of modern letters.

In this wide-ranging hodgepodge of pieces, Self reveals a more personable side—a kinder, gentler, more accessible one, even if the prose may send readers scurrying to the dictionary. On a single page from his astute essay on the “otherworldliness of Kafka’s prose,” he uses vermiculated, velleity, inanition, and neurasthenia. The titular essay examines the powerful experience of solitary reading, which provides “direct engagement with the mind shaping its language.” Besides, quips the author, it’s freeing to do so whenever we want. In the witty “What to Read?” Self urges us to “read what the hell you like,” later adding, “No, read what you want—but be conscious that, in this area of life as so many others, you are what you eat, and if your diet is solely pulp, you’ll very likely become rather…pulpy.” There’s also “How Should We Read?” while “Reading for Writers” neatly concludes the collection. In between, Self effortlessly weaves his way from such lighthearted topics as shelves, the “very lynchpins of a form of bourgeois domesticity,” to a lengthy, dark, autobiographical piece on W.G. Sebald and the role of the Holocaust in his writing as well as an unfortunately timely piece about his visit to “coruscating” Pripyat, near Chernobyl, at the same time as the Fukushima disaster. In “A Care Home for Novels,” Self argues that the literary novel is “dying before your eyes,” while another essay, from Harper’s in 2018, is titled “The Printed Word in Peril.” Self also delivers an insightful piece on the “gonzo journalist avant la lettre,” George Orwell; a fine appreciation of William S. Burroughs and his “fiendish parable of modern alienation,” Junky; and a stellar exploration of Joseph Conrad’s forward thinking regarding “space, time and their odd interlinkages” in The Secret Agent. Winding down, “Apocalypse Then” is an introspective, sobering piece on climate change.

Plenty to ponder in this energetic, opinionated collection.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-8021-6024-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

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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 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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Strictly for dittoheads.


An unabashed celebration of the late talking head.

Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021) insisted that he had a direct line to God, who blessed him with brilliance unseen since the time of the Messiah. In his tribute, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls him “the greatest broadcaster that [sic] ever lived.” That’s an accidental anointment, given checkered beginnings. Limbaugh himself records that, after earning a failing grade for not properly outlining a speech, he dropped out of college—doubtless the cause of his scorn for higher education. This book is a constant gush of cult-of-personality praise, with tributes from Ben Carson, Mike Pence, Donald Trump, and others. One radio caller called Limbaugh “practically perfect” and a latter-day George Washington by virtue of “the magnetism and the trust and the belief of all the people.” Limbaugh insists that conservatives are all about love, though he filled the airwaves with bitter, divisive invective about the evils of liberals, as with this tidbit: “to liberals, the Bill of Rights is horrible, the Bill of Rights grants citizens freedom….The Bill of Rights limits the federal government, and that’s negative to a socialist like Obama.” Moreover, “to Democrats, America’s heartland is ‘flyover’ country. They don’t know, or like, the Americans who live there, or their values.” Worse still for a money machine like Limbaugh, who flew over that heartland in a private jet while smoking fat cigars, liberals like Obama are “trying to socialize profit so that [they] can claim it”—anathema to wealthy Republicans, who prefer to socialize risk by way of bailouts while keeping the profits for themselves. Limbaugh fans will certainly eat this up, though a segment of the Republican caucus in Congress (Marjorie Taylor Greene et al.) might want to read past Limbaugh’s repeated insistence that “peace can’t be achieved by ‘developing an understanding’ with the Russian people.”

Strictly for dittoheads.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2022

ISBN: 9781668001844

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Threshold Editions/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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