THOMAS JEFFERSON

A LIFE

In the 250th anniversary year of Jefferson's birth, Randall (History/Univ. of Vermont) offers a brilliant, magisterial, and gracefully narrated biography of the sage of Monticello—a worthy successor to the author's Benedict Arnold (1990) and A Little Revenge (1984). Randall argues that much Jeffersonian scholarship relies on misinterpretations of the Founding Father's writings, or even ignores the bulk of his voluminous papers. By drawing on this newly assembled (at Princeton University) trove, Randall makes significant reinterpretations of important, though often overlooked, periods in Jefferson's life. He contends that Jefferson's underexamined early years as a law student under legal scholar George Wythe and as a preeminent member of the colonial Virginia bar, together with his encyclopedic mastery of the works of the French philosophers, explain his emergence as the chief legal spokesman of the Thirteen Colonies. Jefferson became Virginia's leading expert on land law, largely as a result of his frequent legal challenges to titles of landed gentry, and, eventually, he fundamentally rewrote that law. His interest in land law led also to his becoming a strong proponent of westward expansion, both while ending the Revolution (the Paris peace treaty doubled American territory) and during his presidency, through the Louisiana Purchase. Randall also views Jefferson's years in Europe as significant preparation for his formulating foreign policy as President, and he argues convincingly that Jefferson's antislavery views were sincere (despite his status as a major Virginia slaveholder, he worked throughout his life to bring an end to slavery in Virginia, beginning with an emancipation measure—which was shouted down—that he'd helped introduce in 1769 in Virginia's colonial legislature). Throughout the text, Jefferson emerges as a person in whom Enlightenment rationalism battled with powerful passions, both in affairs of the heart and matters of state. A superlative contribution to Jeffersonian scholarship that rebuts some canards in recent literature (Fawn Brodie's sensational allegations about the President's personal life receive short shrift) while revealing the tensions latent in Jefferson's complex personality.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-1577-9

Page Count: 648

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1993

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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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