Impressive research and evident enthusiasm inform a definitive biography.



A deep examination of an acclaimed literary figure.

Award-winning translator, literary critic, and Guggenheim fellow Zenith draws on the published work and vast unpublished archive of Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) to produce a capacious, perceptive biography of the enigmatic Portuguese writer. Among Zenith’s many sources is Pessoa’s semiautobiographical The Book of Disquiet and some 25,000 manuscript sheets of poetry, plays, prose, philosophy, and literary criticism, many attributed to the multitude of invented authors that Pessoa created throughout his life. His desire, he said, “to enlarge the world with fictitious personalities,” began in childhood and proliferated until he had imagined more than 100 distinct individuals. He imbued these personalities—he called them heteronyms—with complex biographies and often starkly different opinions and views of the world. Zenith prefaces the book with capsule biographies of dozens of the most significant heteronyms and offers an appendix featuring a detailed chronology of each one’s appearance. In 1904, poet Charles Robert Anon emerged as a predominant alter ego; soon he was joined by Horace James Faber, a writer of detective stories. One heteronym was French; another, British. One was a psychiatrist whose client was Pessoa; others included a monk undergoing a crisis of faith, an astrologer, and a promoter of neopaganism. Among the most well known was Ricardo Reis, a poet immortalized by novelist José Saramago in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. Pessoa, born in Lisbon (Zenith is a longtime resident), lived with his family in Durban, South Africa, until he was 17, when he returned to Portugal for college. He never married and “almost certainly died a virgin.” A brief romantic relationship ended when Pessoa lost interest after about a year. Zenith delivers careful readings of Pessoa’s works and examines with sensitivity his varied intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic proclivities as well as his longing for posthumous fame, which he amply accrued.

Impressive research and evident enthusiasm inform a definitive biography.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-87140-471-8

Page Count: 1020

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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