A fresh look at Rome’s vast grandeur during the 17th century.



A vibrant journey to Baroque Rome.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), acclaimed as the “genius of the Baroque,” is the focus of Grossman’s engaging, sumptuously illustrated history of 17th-century Rome, when grand architectural and artistic projects, commissioned by a succession of popes, transformed the city dramatically. The son of well-regarded sculptor Pietro Bernini, Gian’s talent was evident when he was as young as 11. By the time he was in his 20s, he was a recognized master, and his career soared during the 21 years of the papacy of Urban VIII, when “a flood of papal commissions” made him spectacularly wealthy. Even under Innocent X, Urban’s successor and foe, Bernini managed to navigate political intrigue and turbulence to maintain his status as Rome’s preeminent sculptor and architect. His most important patron, however, was the physically frail Alexander VII. By 1650, after the Thirty Years’ War and the Protestant Reformation, with papal political influence waning and the power of France’s Louis XIV growing, Alexander “turned ever more inward, lavishing more time, attention and money on his projects for Rome.” Public works of art, he believed, reflected his spiritual and diplomatic power, and he saw in the swirling, sensuous, theatrical Baroque a style focused only on “heightening the drama of life.” Grossman portrays Bernini as a self-promoter with a “prodigious” work ethic; a man who could display “arrogance, quick temper, and sharp tongue” but also a tendency to be self-critical. A self-portrait, reproduced in this book, shows “piercing eyes, a dark piratical look, and a sense of tremendous physical and intellectual energy.” He directed that energy toward managing a huge workshop, which, at one time or another, employed “almost every sculptor of talent in Rome.” An added bonus, Grossman’s guide to an Obelisk Walk of Rome, appended to his narrative, highlights many of Bernini’s works.

A fresh look at Rome’s vast grandeur during the 17th century.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64313-740-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.


From Penelope and Pandora to Katniss Everdeen and Lisbeth Salander, the "hero's journey" gets a much-needed makeover.

In her latest, Tatar—the Harvard professor of folklore and mythology and Germanic languages and literature who has annotated collections of classic fairy tales, Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, among others—begins by pointing out that all of the faces of heroism discussed in Joseph Campbell's influential book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), are male. To correct this requires a revision of the concept of heroism itself, rooted in numerous foundational texts. Starting with Greek mythology and Scheherezade and moving through the centuries all the way to the Game of Thrones series and The Queen's Gambit, Tatar incisively explores women's reinvention of heroism to embrace empathy, compassion, and care, often to pursue social justice. Among the many high points in this engaging study: an analysis of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables as autofiction, Jurassic Park as a reimagining of “Hansel and Gretel,” Harriet the Spy as an antiheroine, and a deep dive into the backstory of Wonder Woman. Receiving their own chapters are female sleuths such as Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and the less well known characters of Kate Fansler, an academic, and Blanche White, who is Black. The book really takes off when it gets to contemporary culture, particularly in a section that identifies a female version of the "trickster" archetype in Everdeen and Salander. Of this lineage, among the shared interesting traits not traditionally associated with women characters is a prodigious appetite. "Like Gretel, Pippi Longstocking, and Lisbeth Salander before her,” writes Tatar, “Katniss gorges on rich food yet her hunger never ceases." The text is illustrated with many reproductions of paintings and other artwork—including a postcardworthy panel from the original Wonder Woman—that add much to the text.

As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-881-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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