Medical historian Markel (Medicine/Univ. of Michigan; When Germs Travel, 2004, etc.) writes of a time when many Americans and Europeans enjoyed their daily rendezvous with cocaine.

Two of them were giants: Sigmund Freud and William Halsted, and no history of their fields—psychology and surgery—is complete without considering their contributions, for “each man changed the world.” They were also both cocaine addicts for part of their lives, and Markel investigates how that condition may have impinged on their work. The author is a convivial writer, but careful with his data; he musters his facts, then deals them out with a pleasurable flourish. He situates both the rise and fall of cocaine in the medical world, and that world writ large during the late 19th century, as well as broadly exploring each man’s significance to medicine. Markel ably covers cocaine’s effects as it made its way into the surgery—it was the anesthesiologist’s godsend—as well as Freud and Halsted’s bloodstreams. Reports of its revivifying powers had been floating out of South America since the early 19th century, and the substance gradually came into everyday use. Markel is particularly good with the social history of the drug: how it was laced into wine and Coca-Cola (as a response to the outlawing of liquor in Georgia), and the same-as-it-ever-was shenanigans of Big Pharma. Freud and Halsted, however, are cautionary tales as self-experimenters: Cocaine’s progress played upon their insecurities and vanities, exacted physical and emotional tolls and disrupted their personal lives, not to mention that “their most fallow professional years coincided with their most prodigious substance abuse.” From wonder drug to the monkey on their back, Markel testifies that cocaine did neither Freud nor Halsted any favors.


Pub Date: July 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42330-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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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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