An engagingly wide-ranging set of meditations.

AUTUMN

The acclaimed author delivers a host of brief but insightful observations about the small matters of everyday life.

In the My Struggle series, Knausgaard mined his life but called it fiction, crafting an epic story with a novelistic shape. This book, the first in a quartet with seasonal themes, is explicitly autobiographical but less personally revealing, looking outward instead of inward. Contemplating the upcoming birth of his daughter, the author asks, “what makes life worth living?” The answer: details. The book is built on an assortment of short essays on a wide range of topics, including frogs, photographs, beds, and tin cans. “Autumn” is a framing device, but not every essay engages with the season. What truly unites these pieces is Knausgaard’s sensibility, which is one part Montaigne (an urge to address big issues), one part Nicholson Baker (an eye for picayune detail), and one part Annie Dillard (an admiration for nature and an elegant prose style). Watching beekeepers, he finds an intersection of man and nature that "shows human beings at their most subservient and perhaps also at their most beautiful.” “Fever” triggers memories of his parents doting on his childhood illnesses. (“With fever came privileges. Meals in bed. Grapes. New comic books.”) “Forgiveness” is a sketch about his wonderment at how humans could culturally arrive at a capacity for mercy. Considering bird migrations, he finds not a clichéd sense of freedom but evidence of nature’s boundaries. Because each chapter is brief, usually about three pages, Knausgaard can’t deliver more than glancing consideration of any one subject, and three pages each on female genitalia and vomit is more than plenty. But in the aggregate, the pieces feel remarkably substantive, a call to pay closer attention to the routine stuff in our lives and to allow ourselves to be thunderstruck by their beauty.

An engagingly wide-ranging set of meditations.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56330-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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