A dispiriting account of a great star and not-so-great human being.



On-screen and off with the “King of Cool.”

Veteran celebrity biographer Eliot’s (Paul Simon: A Life, 2010, etc.) portrait of film star Steve McQueen (1930–1980) is a curiously sour reading experience. The subject emerges as a singularly petty and unpleasant personality, a minor talent who left a meager cinematic legacy completely out of proportion with his enduring status as an icon of mid-20th-century “cool.” In this telling, McQueen’s less-than-impressive filmography is the result of the star’s persistent small-mindedness, as he habitually gravitated toward working with directors he could dominate and turned down promising roles—he could have been the Sundance Kid, but walked when he couldn’t get top billing over rival Paul Newman—out of spite, laziness and easily injured ego. A hardscrabble childhood led to a period of small-time criminality and military service before McQueen drifted into acting, attracted to the profession for its many opportunities to smoke dope and sleep with pretty young actresses. He made a hit with the TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive, in which he perfected a sullen, wary, catlike screen presence that radiated charisma and danger, and he would keep sounding those same few notes throughout his career. Eliot praises McQueen’s iconic impact in such films as The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt and The Getaway, but these successes come off as lucky intersections of good timing and congenial material rather than the expression of a significant artistic talent. Eliot’s matter-of-fact recounting of McQueen’s gluttonous appetite for drugs, compulsive womanizing, sickening instances of wife-beating and petulant bullying are difficult to stomach, as they seem less like the torments of a complicated artist than the sordid habits of a profoundly spoiled, selfish, bitter man. The author writes of McQueen poring over the script of The Towering Inferno, counting his lines to make sure that co-star Paul Newman didn’t have more to do and childishly insisting on delivering the last line of the film. That about sums it up.

A dispiriting account of a great star and not-so-great human being.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-45321-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown Archetype

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?