Essential for anyone concerned with geopolitics, national security, and the containment of further terrorist actions.


Journalist and national security analyst Bergen delivers a compelling, nuanced portrait of America’s erstwhile public enemy No. 1.

Osama bin Laden, whom the author interviewed long before he became a household name, was an enigmatic and contradictory man: He was rich but insisted on living ascetically—a fact that drove a son of his away in adulthood—and though he had the bearing of a quiet cleric, he engineered the deaths of countless thousands of people, and not just on 9/11. Bergen resists psychobiography while examining some of the facts of his family life that shaped his personality. He barely knew his father, whom his mother had divorced, and he idealized a remote, dusty corner of Yemen, his family seat, even as it gave birth to an offshoot of Islam that worshipped Christian saints alongside Muslim ones. In the last weeks of his life, bin Laden was consumed with the fear that, hidden away in a compound in Pakistan, he was missing out on what he felt should have been a leadership role in the Arab Spring movement—and never mind that it had little to do with his religious fundamentalism. Throughout, Bergen turns up revealing details and sharp arguments against received wisdom: one moment finds bin Laden treating his white beard with Just for Men hair dye; another introduces readers to one of his wives, a “poet and intellectual who…played a key, hidden role in formulating his ideas and helping him prepare his public statements.” Though intelligence presumes him to have delegated the work to lieutenants, Bergen shows bin Laden micromanaging the 9/11 attacks and subsequent operations as the Bush administration bungled its efforts to find him. Meaningfully, the author notes that waterboarding and other torture of captured al-Qaida operatives yielded almost no actionable intelligence, and he disputes the claim that the Pakistani intelligence service shielded bin Laden from American discovery, discounting what has become the near-official narrative.

Essential for anyone concerned with geopolitics, national security, and the containment of further terrorist actions.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982170-52-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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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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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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