A sturdy and readable life, in company with Randall’s other portraits of the Revolutionary generation.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON

A LIFE

A revealing but measured biography of the younger Founding Father, who, to the horror of libertarians ever since, “[drew] up a blueprint for a relationship between government and money.”

Who was right about America—Jefferson or Hamilton? Such, writes Randall (Humanities/ Champlain Coll., Vermont; co-author, Forgotten Americans, 1998, etc.), was the single question leveled at him at a meeting of the American Revolution Round Table a few years back. “The hour was late,” he writes, “my answer brief: Jefferson for the eighteenth century, Hamilton for more modern times.” He capably defends his judgment in this well-written life of Hamilton (1755–1804), who mixed Clintonesque appetites for pleasure and policy-wonking while busily putting the new republic’s economy on a sound footing. Hamilton’s life was wreathed in legend even in his time; more or less adopted by George Washington, he also had a talent for acquiring powerful enemies who made every effort to discredit the young man as a bastard, a closet royalist, and an enemy of democracy. Randall defends his subject on all counts; to be sure, he notes, Hamilton’s parents were not technically married, but “they lived as husband and wife for fifteen years,” which was good enough in the eyes of English common law; to be sure, he carried himself with the air of an aristocrat, but Hamilton was no fan of the Hanoverian kings, and if he showed unusual clemency to captured Loyalists, he remained a devoted soldier of the Continental Army all the same, ardently espousing the cause of liberty. Unlike more idealistic revolutionaries, however, Hamilton believed that the chief role of government was to subdue the passions of the people, who “are inherently corrupted by lust for power and greed for property,” which put him square up against the Jeffersonian camp and, in time, in the sights of Aaron Burr’s pistol. But before he fell, Hamilton crafted several institutions—among them the national bank and the germ of the IRS—that prove him a modern man indeed, for better or worse.

A sturdy and readable life, in company with Randall’s other portraits of the Revolutionary generation.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-019549-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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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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