Required reading for anyone interested in global affairs.

PUTIN

The author of authoritative books on Mao and Pol Pot returns with another impressive yet disturbing account of a dangerous world leader.

Events in Ukraine will spur sales of this thick biography, but any praise is well deserved, as Short offers an insightful and often discouraging text on the Russian president. Born in 1952 in Leningrad, he grew up in a tiny, shabby apartment shared with two other families. Entering the KGB in 1975, he left in 1991 to join Leningrad’s city government in the exhilarating aftermath of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Diligent and efficient, Putin rose to prominence and moved to Moscow in 1996, becoming President Boris Yeltsin’s trusted assistant and then successor in 2000. Russia’s constitution (approved under Yeltsin) gives its president far more powers than America’s, but Short shows how Putin’s KGB background lowered his inhibitions on imprisoning or murdering political opponents; as time passed, his word became law. The author has no quarrel with the accusation that Putin destroyed the democratic liberties that followed glasnost, but he also points out that, for most Russians, the 1990s were a time of crushing poverty, crime, and disorder. Early on under Putin, living standards increased, and the streets became safer. Few Russians admire the Soviet Union, other than its status as an empire and great power. Many Russians, including Putin, are angry about how the U.S. boasted of victory during the Cold War, gave advice but little else during the lean years, and broke its promise not to expand NATO to former Soviet nations, thereby stoking Russia’s long-standing paranoia about being surrounded by enemies. Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and backing of secessionists in eastern Ukraine remain popular, and many Russians support the invasion of Ukraine despite its difficulties. Having read obsessively and interviewed almost everyone, Putin included, Short delivers a consistently compelling account of Putin’s life so far. Contradictions abound, and the author is not shy about pointing out frank lies from sources that include Putin as well as his enemies.

Required reading for anyone interested in global affairs.

Pub Date: July 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-62779-366-7

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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