The “saucy” lady gets a generous treatment in this entertaining gambol through the Founding era.

ABIGAIL ADAMS

A LIFE

Richly detailed biography of Abigail Adams (1744–1818), sprightly with quotes from letters and chockfull of legendary names.

The subtext of this compelling, though hardly news-breaking, biography seems to be: What would Abigail have done with her life if she had been well-educated and able to jostle with men in the greater world of politics and business? As it was, she was relegated to the domestic sphere, confined by the cares of her children, then grandchildren, forced to pour her wit and intelligence into letters to husband John and friends. Yet this parson’s daughter was not altogether a feminist as we imagine today, despite her now-famous “Remember the Ladies” letter to John in March 1776. Holton (History/Univ. of Richmond; Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, 2007, etc.) takes great pains to examine Abigail’s letters over a lifetime for clues to her emancipated thinking, dwelling on her advocacy of education for women, financial acuity—e.g., speculating during the war in exports, bonds and buying land—and elaborate will, in which she defied the law of coverture, whereby the husband assumed all legal rights over his wife’s property. However, her numerous dispatches from Europe, where she joined John when he was America’s first representative to the Court of St. James, reveal some provincial views; she criticized the “masculine attire” and lack of “softness” of British women. As John was often away, Abigail was compelled to act on her own and even seems to have indulged in an epistolary flirtation with a colleague in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, James Lovell.

The “saucy” lady gets a generous treatment in this entertaining gambol through the Founding era.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4680-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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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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