On this vicarious trip, Damrosch effectively demonstrates why Tocqueville proved “a superb interpreter of American culture.”

TOCQUEVILLE’S DISCOVERY OF AMERICA

The journey and insights of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) in America.

In 1831, Tocqueville and his fellow French aristocrat Gustave de Beaumont traversed a burgeoning, teeming America in the grip of territorial expansion and commercial explosion. They were amazed by the young country's industrious, plainspoken, egalitarian and largely middle-class ways. Tocqueville was privileged to witness, as Damrosch (Literature/Harvard Univ.; Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, 2005, etc.) notes of their visit to the fledging city of Cincinnati, “impressive young professionals who were energetically building a civilization.” The author traces this journey, familiar to readers of Tocqueville but always wonderfully entertaining, while lending his own astute observations. Tocqueville and Beaumont set out on official government business to examine the prison reforms being instigated in America and bring back new ideas to France. Tocqueville admitted later the penitentiary system was a good "pretext" for examining the whole American experiment, from marriage to government to slavery. He and Beaumont kept copious notes, from which Damrosch translates for the first time here. Curiously, the men barely spoke English but gradually learned to appreciate the idiomatic simplicity of American speech. For example, Tocqueville was eager to see forests and Indians, as the Frenchmen were steeped in romantic notions of Chateaubriand's America, and marveled that there was no word for wilderness in French. They visited 17 of the 24 states and the Western territories, of which Ohio was the frontier. They finally found in Boston a polite society much like they had known in Europe, though they made themselves at home everywhere among shopkeepers, farmers or prison guards. Politics in Washington, D.C., disappointed them.

On this vicarious trip, Damrosch effectively demonstrates why Tocqueville proved “a superb interpreter of American culture.”

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-27817-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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