Know your enemy, the adage goes. This is a most helpful resource.

THE OSAMA BIN LADEN I KNOW

AN ORAL HISTORY OF AL QAEDA’S LEADER

He was a nice, quiet boy, a loner, kept pretty much to himself. Then he got a little funny in the head—but we never saw it coming.

So suggests Osama bin Laden’s high-school English teacher, remembering him as “extraordinarily courteous . . . probably partly because he was a bit shyer than most of the other students.” From shy teenager to world-renowned criminal: The career arc that CNN correspondent Bergen’s oral history describes surely seemed unlikely to the wealthy Saudis among whom bin Laden came of age, though all the signs were there; a neighbor, for instance, recalls that though bin Laden was fond of Westerns and kung-fu movies, he was also a priggish fundamentalist who dreamed of liberating Palestine and chided his siblings for ogling the maid and wearing short-sleeve shirts. He translated that fundamentalist drive into military action by funding and fighting alongside the anti-Soviet mujahedeen of Afghanistan, though he later made the “odd” decision to form the predominantly Arab force called al Qaeda. The accounts of his fellow soldiers and of veterans of al Qaeda, some taken from trial transcripts and intelligence reports, point to bin Laden as something of a failure as a strategist; his closest friend from university chided him in Afghanistan for his willingness to spend his soldiers’ lives, saying, “You can throw away the Koran, but not drop the blood of a person,” while even al Qaeda members characterized him as “a madman from a mental hospital, a madman but a genius.” All recent accounts agree, however, that bin Laden outfoxed his American pursuers in post-9/11 Afghanistan and is very much alive, though he will gladly fight to the death as a martyr for Islam: “I am just a poor slave of God,” he told Al-Jazeera. “If I live or die, the war will continue.”

Know your enemy, the adage goes. This is a most helpful resource.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-7891-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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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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