A grab bag, but one that repays reading and reflection and a pleasure throughout despite occasionally dark moments.

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The bestselling author offers a miscellany of essays on life and letters in an environmentally fraught time.

Green, who admits to a certain amount of OCD, opens charmingly with a telling instance: It took him 30 days to create a path through the woods behind his Indianapolis home to reach a treehouse less than a minute away: “It took me a month to build a fifty-eight-second walk in the woods.” He might well have conjured the critic Morse Peckham, who once observed that a futile activity isn’t so futile if it puts off recognizing its own futility. It’s one of few bookish allusions Green misses in this pleasing book of essays personal and cultural. The author notes that we are at a moment when everything is rated thanks to the pernicious influences of Amazon and Yelp and such; Green calls a bout of labyrinthitis “an unambiguously one-star experience.” The ratings continue: He gives humankind a four-star chance of surviving the present era of mounting catastrophes, the Anthropocene. His register of references is far-ranging. Among dozens of other topics, he discusses Shakespearean evocations of clouds, the origins of the “pathetic fallacy” in the writings of John Ruskin, and the world’s largest ball of paint, which can be found not far from Green’s home. There are fine moments throughout, as when the author writes appreciatively of Indianapolis as a place he loves “precisely because it isn’t easy to love” or when he ponders the social basis of genius, by which artists such as Michelangelo flourished because others were making advances in the study of human anatomy and Julius Caesar “became a dictator because…over time the empire’s soldiers felt more loyalty to their military leaders than to their civilian ones.” In a treat for die-hard fans, each copy from the first print run will be signed by the author.

A grab bag, but one that repays reading and reflection and a pleasure throughout despite occasionally dark moments.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55521-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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 virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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