A perceptive and cleareyed biography of a unique figure.

INVENTOR OF THE FUTURE

THE VISIONARY LIFE OF BUCKMINSTER FULLER

A full portrait of the fascinating life of a famed disruptor.

Novelist, biographer, and science-fiction writer Nevala-Lee draws on abundant archival material to fashion a thoroughly researched, comprehensive biography of architect, inventor, and “serial entrepreneur” R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), who famously created the geodesic dome. Fuller, the great-nephew of transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, grew up in Milton, Massachusetts. He entered Harvard in 1913 but did so poorly that he withdrew after a semester. After a stint in the Navy and a job in sales with a meatpacking company, Fuller joined his father-in-law, a designer with an interest in architecture, to invent lightweight building blocks for the construction of efficient, affordable housing. Together, they established the Stockade Building System, with Fuller as chief salesman and promoter—a role he inhabited throughout his long career in many ventures. His interest in housing led him to build his own “scientific housing company,” Fuller Houses, to produce components that could be delivered as a package and assembled quickly on site. Cars and airplanes inspired him to design a blimp-shaped house and car. As Nevala-Lee notes, Fuller’s self-aggrandizement, mythmaking, “expansive claims” and “messianic language” informed many previous portrayals of him as a Renaissance man in the mold of Leonardo da Vinci. While not underestimating the fertility of Fuller’s imagination, Nevala-Lee reveals his subject’s reliance on colleagues and students. Like a virus, he had “a unique talent for using a host to reproduce.” When he taught at various colleges, he recruited students as unpaid labor, taking their discoveries “to the next school on his list, burnishing his image as a genius by assimilating the work of many others.” Hailed as a futurist, among his predictions were online education and remote working. He influenced architects such as Norman Foster and Frank Gehry, and his conviction “that economic forces favored gargantuan service industries,” has been borne out by Amazon.

A perceptive and cleareyed biography of a unique figure.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-062-94722-2

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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 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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