A good book for those seeking encouragement that someone in Washington might care.

TO OBAMA

WITH LOVE, JOY, ANGER, AND HOPE

New York Times Magazine contributing writer Laskas (English/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Concussion, 2015, etc.) reveals the unknown but very important White House office that plays a large part in the legacy of the Obama administration.

The Office of Presidential Correspondence was first established under President William McKinley, but the volume has increased considerably, particularly during the previous president’s tenure. Early in his career, Obama received vital assistance from “the 101st Senator,” Pete Rouse, who had three decades of experience in Washington, D.C. Rouse became Obama’s Capitol Hill guru, helping him hit the ground running. Then he stayed on for Obama’s time in the White House, modernizing the OPC in the process. “The mail had currency,” writes the author. “Some staff members called it ‘the letter underground.’ Starting in 2010, all mail was scanned and preserved. Starting in 2011, every word of every email factored into the creation of a daily word cloud, its image distributed around the White House so policy makers and staff members alike could get a glimpse at the issues and ideas constituents had on their minds.” Rouse insists it was Obama’s idea to read 10 letters per day, “the ‘10LADs’ as they came to be known.” The organizational process was massive: 50 staff members, more than 30 interns, and some 300 volunteers reading each day’s 10,000-plus letters and coding them according to subject. There were form response letters, but some required individual attention from a federal agency. Some received a red dot, meaning they should be processed in 24 hours. Over the years, the process expanded to some of the administration’s senior staff and even some members of Congress, who became known as “Friends of the Mailroom.” This is a curious collection that readers will find inspiring, depressing, or uplifting depending on their points of view. Regardless, it’s impressive that someone read the letters and replies were sent out, some written by Obama. In a comfortable journalistic narrative, Laskas also provides background on many of the letters.

A good book for those seeking encouragement that someone in Washington might care.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-50938-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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