Of value to those pondering what happened for the past five years and whether we can truly heal.



The former president’s niece gets in a few more licks.

There is no love lost between Trump and her uncle: “But for him, we would not have become so divided. But for him, a simple lifesaving maneuver like wearing a mask would not have become politicized. But for him, we would not have suffered a mass casualty event in this country every day, for month after month after month.” She reckons that under her uncle’s watch, the nation was forced to endure so catastrophic a trauma that, in essence, we’re all suffering from PTSD. That trauma is an old one, she writes, and here the narrative descends from political and psychological analysis to the recitation of a history that is well known: Our trauma and many of our divisions emerge from the original sin of slavery and the failure of Reconstruction. Because we have not come to terms with that sin, and because racism is resurgent, we have no chance to remedy it. Trump’s approach is a touch scattershot. She has a particular bone to pick with Robert E. Lee, whom she calls “a vile human being,” and even lays a few tut-tuts on Barack Obama for “failing to hold prior crimes to account,” from Abu Ghraib to the fast-and-loose financial shenanigans that led to the Great Recession. She’s at her best, and on the firmest of ground, when she lays into her uncle’s manifest shortcomings: “When your motive is not simply winning at all costs but grievance and revenge, you’re more dangerous than a straight-up sociopath. Donald is much worse than that—he’s someone with a gaping wound where his soul should be.” What’s more, she insists, with good reason, the Republican Party has followed his lead as “an instinctive fascist” to become an enemy of American democracy, yet another source of our mass trauma—our rescue from which will come only with our “facing the truth and feeling the pain.”

Of value to those pondering what happened for the past five years and whether we can truly heal.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-27845-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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