Captivating biography of an archaeological pioneer sure to please history fans and students of the spy game.



A British historian resurrects the life of a self-taught archaeologist who discovered a lost civilization on the plains of Afghanistan.

Charles Masson (1800-1853) was a dreamer and military deserter who infuriated the East India Company’s army when he abandoned his post in 1827. He spent years ducking authorities and wandering in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, stoking his simmering fascination with the lost cities of Alexander the Great. He became a man at war with himself: a groundbreaking archaeologist, an unwilling spy, and a bitter foe of his former employer. With assiduous research, assured authority, and lacerating wit, Richardson, a classics professor, re-creates this hair-raising story. Masson first emerges as James Lewis, working for the East India Company and hating every minute of it. After his desertion, he took on his pseudonym and embarked on a quest to reach Alexander’s lost city of Alexandria Beneath the Mountains. But Masson, the first Westerner to explore Afghanistan’s ancient past, discovered something more compelling: dazzling evidence of a lost Greek-Buddhist civilization. His most famous find was the Bimaran Casket, a first-century bejeweled reliquary engraved with “the very earliest dateable image of the Buddha which has ever been found.” Eventually, a company spymaster tracked Masson down and blackmailed him into becoming a British agent, “a spy for the people he despised most in the world,” gathering intelligence on his Afghan hosts as the company fomented a plot to invade. Readers familiar with Afghanistan’s Great Game will appreciate this version of an unfolding catastrophe. History buffs and espionage fans will be fascinated with Richardson’s cast of characters, which included Victorian megalomaniacs, Afghan princes, Russian adventurers, and corrupt East India employees. Masson seemed consigned to obscurity, but today his discoveries are collected and cataloged at the British Museum and the British Library. Richardson’s biography, of a man who burned with the fire of discovery, completes his story.

Captivating biography of an archaeological pioneer sure to please history fans and students of the spy game.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27859-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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 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 fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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