A sad phenomenology of human degradation.



A former prisoner of Auschwitz recounts his experience in the camp and his hellish transformation into what he calls an “extermination-camp man”—a human sub-species focused solely on survival and lacking all feelings and the attendant care for others.

At 16, the author was a spoiled teenager living in Paris who loved science, mathematics, and gambling. His childhood had been difficult, full of upheaval as his family moved around Europe: not close to his parents, and not resident anywhere long enough to make real friends, he became a self-sufficient individualist. He was multilingual, adaptable, and familiar with unpleasant changes—all factors that helped him survive the brutality of Auschwitz (where strength, luck, and “the flexibility of a contortionist” were required). Steinberg freely formed alliances with the hardened criminals who were running the camp, who could dispense extra food or other favors. “I concluded that each of these monsters had a flaw, an Achilles heel, which it was up to me to find: this one needed flattering, that one had a repressed paternal instinct or the need to confide in someone who seemed to take an interest in him.” At one point, sick with dysentery and scabies (which cause painful skin ulcers), he concluded that, for all intents and purposes, human relations had ceased to exist and he didn’t even know his own bunkmate. Later, he used his basic knowledge of chemistry to bluff his way into a laboratory assignment in the I.G. Farben factory where prisoners were forced to work. In the lab, he met Primo Levy—who later was to describe Steinberg as a soulless manipulator, an animal obsessed only with his continued existence. Ultimately, Steinberg agrees with this assessment, and admits that he doesn’t even remember meeting Levy—“perhaps because I hadn’t felt he could be useful to me.”

A sad phenomenology of human degradation.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2000

ISBN: 0-8050-6064-2

Page Count: 163

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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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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