For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.

CRANIAL FRACKING

A short, bumpy ride through the humorist’s dry, deadpan sensibilities.

Perhaps it’s comparing almonds to walnuts, but Frazier’s latest, a hit-and-miss foray into absurdist humor, is not in the class of his much-admired travel books. The author makes a few penetrating satirical stabs at contemporary follies and offers spasms of cleverness, yet too many of the three-page ditties are like underinflated balloons that fizzle out, and the savagely funny pieces only serve to underscore the collection’s overall unevenness. However, the idea of climate change in Hades (“The Temperature of Hell: A Colloquium”) is certainly delicious, and “In My Defense,” a survey of assorted heresies perpetrated by a scoutmaster who has lost his faith, is amusingly clever. There’s also a wry Shakespearean parody on the rigors of parking thy horse and some chuckles to be had with the title piece, in which Frazier sells the extraction rights to vast reserves of natural gas found in his head. When he is critiquing artificial intelligence or advocating for mummies in what is otherwise a golden age of zombies, the theater of the absurd is taken to brave new worlds—consider Jane Austen, “who featured zombies in all her exquisitely wrought nineteenth-century comedies of manners.” One can’t deny that great opening lines like, “I was walking down the street one afternoon, when I suddenly lost funding” belong in a pantheon of sorts, and the idea of Victor Laszlo writing a blog is amusing. Some may cock an eyebrow at the slyly witty “The British Museum of Your Stuff,” wherein larceny and scholarship go hand in hand, or enjoy Frazier’s exercise in anti-travel planning. But there are also plenty of misses, including “Etymology of Some Common Typos,” making this a minor work in the author’s oeuvre. For more substantial essay-length pieces, check out Hogs Wild (2017).

For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60307-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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 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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