Ponderous but sagacious and ultimately rewarding.

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO

AN AMERICAN FAMILY

The unusual history of an enslaved family whose destiny was shaped over the course of four decades by Thomas Jefferson.

Gordon-Reed (Law/New York Law School, History/Rutgers Univ.; Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, 1997, etc.) grudgingly comes to a sympathetic view of Jefferson, who inherited the mixed-race Hemings family when he married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772. By 1784, he was a widower living in Paris as head of the American commission, accompanied by manservant James Hemings, whom Jefferson took along so he could receive training as a French chef. In 1787, James’s 14-year-old sister Sally came to Paris with Jefferson’s daughter Polly; sometime during the French sojourn, she became her master’s mistress. Back in Virginia, Jefferson installed Sally in a fairly pampered life at Monticello; he sired her numerous children and emancipated them upon his death in 1826. The author painstakingly sifts through the evidence about their relationship and examines the convoluted attitudes that influenced Jefferson’s behavior. Sally’s white father was also Martha Jefferson’s father; Jefferson’s wife and his slave mistress were half-sisters who owed their radically different destinies to the Anglo-Virginian system of bondage. The colonists had adopted the Roman rule partus sequitur ventrem (you were what your mother was) rather than the English rule (you were what your father was). By the perverse logic of this system, any drop of white blood ameliorated the work slaves were assigned and their chances of being freed. Jefferson encouraged James Hemings and his brother Robert to learn skills and to move freely in the world. There is no clue in the life of this intertwined family that Gordon-Reed does not minutely examine for its most subtle significance. She concludes that Jefferson was above all a most private man, who espoused abhorrent racial theories in public but behaved relatively well (by the standards of the era) toward his own slaves.

Ponderous but sagacious and ultimately rewarding.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06477-3

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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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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