An exemplary biography of a true public servant, especially refreshing in today’s toxic political climate.

DEMOCRATIC JUSTICE

FELIX FRANKFURTER, THE SUPREME COURT, AND THE MAKING OF THE LIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT

A well-worth-the-effort doorstop study of an indispensable American jurist.

In this powerhouse portrait, Snyder, a professor of constitutional law and legal history, offers a definitive life of Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), the often misrepresented justice appointed by Franklin Roosevelt who served during an era of liberal sea change in the Supreme Court—best illustrated by Brown v. Board of Education. Born in Vienna, Frankfurter moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 12, and he graduated first in his class from Harvard Law School. Throughout his career, he was known for his judicial restraint. He believed that socio-economic change should be primarily effected through the democratic process, via legislative action by elected representatives. Though he was reluctant to allow the highest court to “enter [the] political thicket,” Frankfurter believed its power was essential in securing civil rights for Black Americans. Snyder delves into every aspect of his subject’s extraordinary life: his earliest days as an immigrant immersed in New York City public schools and trying to learn English; his remarkable success in law school and as editor of the Harvard Law Review; his service under his mentor, Henry Stimson, when he was still in his 20s and eager to join Theodore Roosevelt’s crusade for “robust federal government.” As the author writes, “Roosevelt was the leader who could implement James Bradley Thayer’s ideas about limiting judicial review while empowering the federal government.” Other powerful influences included Frankfurter’s “judicial idols,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis D. Brandeis, who championed the notion that law could serve the public good. Above all, Snyder capably demonstrates how Frankfurter “played a major role in the creation of a liberal establishment.” His far-reaching legacy, which the author masterfully captures, can be seen in his writings in the fledgling New Republic, his lifelong mentoring at Harvard Law, and his long career advising presidents and top players across the political spectrum.

An exemplary biography of a true public servant, especially refreshing in today’s toxic political climate.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-00487-5

Page Count: 1008

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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