Excellent reading for students of contemporary geopolitics and recent American history.

THE BACK CHANNEL

A MEMOIR OF AMERICAN DIPLOMACY AND THE CASE FOR ITS RENEWAL

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia and career Foreign Service officer delivers a resounding defense of American diplomacy and the need for negotiation in a non–zero-sum world.

Diplomacy involves considerable skills that seem little in evidence in the current White House, requiring of its practitioners “smart policy judgment, language skills, and a sure feel for the foreign landscapes in which they serve and the domestic priorities they represent.” There is also the matter of what Burns, now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls “strategic adaptation,” the ability to read the winds and adjust course to accommodate the tack one’s interlocutor is taking. Consider Vladimir Putin, a man who leaves Burns unimpressed. By the author’s account, Putin was none too happy when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, and part of his program seems to be to get both up and running again. At the same time, for all his wiles, Putin is capable of misreading situations, as he certainly did after 9/11, when the Bush administration proved “indifferent to Putin’s calculus, and generally disinclined to concede or pay much attention to a power in strategic decline.” Some of the most newsworthy elements of this book, in fact, involve how the State Department crafted a response to 9/11, if one that largely went ignored. One might understand how Putin might feel inclined to angle for an American leader who would serve his interests. Enter Donald Trump. If Burns is evenhanded and careful, glad to praise Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton alike for their successes in service, he clearly reckons Trump to be a disaster for American foreign policy. Still, he persists: Burns believes that “diplomacy is one of our nation’s biggest assets and best-kept secrets. However battered and belittled in the age of Trump, it has never been a more necessary tool of first resort for a new century.”

Excellent reading for students of contemporary geopolitics and recent American history.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50886-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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