An often compelling survey of a uniquely demanding career and the life lived around it, with stories that readers won’t find...



Guatemalan journalist Whitbeck recounts his family’s multigenerational history in journalism as well as travels around the world in this genre-bending Spanish-language memoir.

There are few people who can say seeing a dead body changed their lives for the better, but for the author, it was a light-bulb moment. He was barely a teenager during Guatemala’s civil war in the late 1970s, and violence was everywhere; it was on his daily commute to school, peering out at a cadaver from the bus window, that his future solidified: He was going to be a journalist. After getting his master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University, Whitbeck worked his way up from covering natural disasters in Central America to becoming one of CNN’s senior foreign correspondents. In this memoir and travelogue, he recounts some of his most memorable reporting trips during his decadeslong career, including embedding with U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq, cutting his international journalism teeth at civilian protests in Haiti, and getting to hold the same pen that Gorbachev used to sign the documents dissolving the USSR. He attributes his success to his relentlessly curious nature but admits that journalism may well be his destiny: his ancestors include Spanish conquistador and chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo and American journalist Leonard F. Whitbeck, who covered conflicts between American troops and Indigenous leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Whitbeck even devotes one of the book’s best chapters, an outlier of sorts, to detailing his own father’s involvement in the brief and bloody regime of Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt.

As a narrator, Whitbeck’s greatest strengths are the palpable compassion and humility with which he undertakes the task of reporting on communities in crisis and the deft connections he makes to broader themes of the human condition. The author, who considers himself an introvert and identifies as gay, offers a self-conscious peek into the often opaque world of correspondent journalism; in particular, he’s refreshingly frank about facing racism and xenophobia as a Latino and a member of the Spanish-language press and about the complex traumas of his various sources across the world. His clean prose historically contextualizes his location-based essays without ever overwhelming the reader or deferring to an American perspective. He juxtaposes moments of levity, as when he tells of procuring equine transport in Afghanistan, listening to Coldplay while on assignment, and smoking cannabis for the first time, with the descriptions of the carnage he witnesses. The book isn’t chronological, and the way that Whitbeck jumps through time to suit his philosophizing about the human experience results in occasional passages that feel muddled or disconnected. The final chapter, however, is quite sentimental, ruminating on his life after leaving CNN and how he came to understand himself better through taking psychedelics, culminating in his ultimate takeaway: that death and disaster are simply part of the cycle of life.

An often compelling survey of a uniquely demanding career and the life lived around it, with stories that readers won’t find in the news.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-6070776540

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Planeta Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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 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 conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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