A rare, lyrical family memoir that rises above banal domesticity.

THE BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE

A FATHER, TWO SONS, AND AN UNLIKELY ROAD TO MANHOOD

The author’s account of growing up with a former Black Panther for a father in a disintegrating corner of Baltimore.

Unlike so many of his compatriots in the Black Power movement, Paul Coates didn’t burn out in disappointment after the heat of ’60s idealism turned to ash. Instead, he raised his family, a polyglot mix of children from four mothers, to exacting standards in a Baltimore that by the time of the author’s childhood in the late ’70s and early ’80s was experiencing a drug-and-violence-fueled societal breakdown. In Coates’s poetic account of his youth, Paul provided a bulwark against the buffeting waves of the crack wars outside: “We were a close-knit circle, but a circle surrounded by dire wolves.” While Paul rescued the works of lost or little-known writers through his Black Classic Press (still in existence) and pushed his children to succeed, the author watched with mixed worry and jealousy as his older brother Bill ran the streets and built his rep. The details of Coates’s travels through disintegrating neighborhoods and schools that seemed almost designed to torment a bookish, dreamy kid would be pedestrian in many writers’ hands, but he wields words with a rare grace that gives his story an uncommon power. “The world was filled with great causes—Mandela, Nicaragua, and the battle against Reagan,” Coates writes. “But we died for sneakers stitched by serfs, coats that gave props to teams we didn’t own, hats embroidered with the names of Confederate states.” It’s one of the saddest descriptions of the crack epidemic ever put to page. Given the tragic number of African-Americans who didn’t survive that epidemic, it’s a pleasure to read the author’s awed appraisal of a father who never stopped striving for the best in his family and community, no matter how hopeless the view outside his window.

A rare, lyrical family memoir that rises above banal domesticity.

Pub Date: May 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-52036-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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