A sturdy, instructive, well-written book.



What a difference half a year makes—in this instance, in transforming Abraham Lincoln’s conduct of the Civil War into a war not just to preserve the Union, but to free the enslaved as well.

Journalist and one-time West Point historian Brewster (co-author, with Peter Jennings: In Search of America, 2002, etc.) comes at this project a bit late, it seems. Much of his ground was covered by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005) and the film that grew from it, Lincoln, while the evolution of Lincoln’s views on slavery and emancipation is the subject of Eric Foner’s much deeper-reaching book The Fiery Trial (2010). Still, Brewster provides a highly readable, vigorously researched account of the fraught six-month period in which the Emancipation Proclamation came into being, which inarguably changed the course of the Civil War. Brewster opens with W.E.B. Du Bois’ aperçu, somewhat inaccurate but also somewhat on the mark, that Lincoln was an illegitimate, poorly educated Southerner whose championing of abolition was politically calculated. Whether accurate or not, Lincoln’s decision brought added resolve to the battle to restore the Union, adding equality to “the American ideal of liberty.” Brewster is particularly good as a close reader of Lincoln’s drafts of the document and their evolving intent: As he notes, Lincoln’s wording, “dull, careful, lawyerly, precise,” makes it plain that only the states in rebellion were subject to the law’s harsh judgment. The extension of Lincoln’s reasoning to the Thirteenth Amendment can clearly be seen in the documents and Brewster’s thoughtful elucidation, though that extension was by no means fait accompli. Brewster offers as an interesting counterfactual what might have happened had Lincoln’s initial proposals been adopted, introducing a gradual emancipation that would not have been completed until 1900 and that would likely have involved mass repatriation of freed slaves to Africa. Instead, of course, Lincoln turned his army into “an army of liberation.”

A sturdy, instructive, well-written book.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9386-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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