A thorough but not groundbreaking biographical investigation.

THE LOST FOUNDING FATHER

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN POLITICS

A biography focused on a statesman’s career during a period of profound political change.

With at least five books about John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) published in the last five years, it’s difficult to accept the idea that Adams has been “lost” to history. Among those books were two comprehensive biographies by Fred Kaplan and James Traub, an examination of Adams’ education, and a perceptive biography of his wife, Louisa, in which, of course, Adams himself was an omnipresent character. Cooper (Emeritus, History/Louisiana State Univ.; Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era, 2008, etc.) distinguishes his biography by focusing on “the context of the developing forces and changing values taking place in American politics during his lifetime,” which Adams “both embraced and resisted.” With this aim, the author pays little attention to his subject’s marriage (Louisa, portrayed as sickly, is pushed to the background) or family (the death—possibly suicide—of his dissolute son George, for example, is dispatched in a paragraph). Like other biographers, Cooper portrays Adams as stubborn, ambitious, and a “patrician intellectual” who disdained calling public attention to himself—even by campaigning for office—and was happiest keeping his voluminous diaries. After a career as a statesman, he acceded to the presidency but, like his father, was not re-elected to a second term. He watched with dismay the rise of Andrew Jackson, whom he considered corrupt, ignorant, and opposed to the “energetic federal government” that Adams championed. Jackson’s election, Cooper asserts, “signaled the beginning of a popular politics buttressed by organized, vigorous political parties.” The author astutely traces Adams’ connection to two rising factions, the Antimasons and Whigs, and, as a congressman, his efforts to halt slavery, which he believed could be accomplished through “a gradual, ordered process.” He struggled with his alignment with abolitionists, fearing that their cause might “ruin him politically,” but he eventually concluded that slavery would not be purged from the Union “until it goes down in blood.”

A thorough but not groundbreaking biographical investigation.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-435-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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