A jaunty narrative for Hammett and hard-boiled fans only.



Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), private eye.

Journalist and former American Heritage editor Ward (Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront, 2011, etc.) began this lively, but ultimately slight, book with a single question: how did Hammett transform himself “from Pinkerton operative to master of the American detective story”? The many biographies of Hammett (Ward cites a few in his bibliography) failed to answer his question, so he set out on his own investigation. Unfortunately, finding little evidence of Hammett’s years working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Ward often guesses what Hammett might have felt, done, or thought. Although he speculates, for example, that “doing his scores of operative reports” honed Hammett’s ability to write pithy narratives, none of those reports are in the Pinkerton archive at the Library of Congress. Ward can only deduce what they might have contained from other operatives’ work. Other information about the Pinkerton years came from Hammett researcher and journalist David Fechheimer, who tracked down operatives who had known Hammett. Ward also closely reads Hammett’s detective stories for clues. Since none of his early writing has survived, however, even Hammett’s motivation to become a writer is shrouded in mystery. What is clear was his inability to continue to work for Pinkerton because he was weak, and often bedridden, from tuberculosis contracted during World War I. With a wife and children to support, Fechheimer suggests, “he would have done whatever he had to do to make a buck.” “Down the years,” writes Ward, “Hammett must have wondered what might have happened had he gone on chasing crooks for the agency; whether, once he had run out his string as an operative, he could have settled into a desk job bossing younger detectives.” Or maybe not. Ward ends the biography in 1935, when Hammett was famous, celebrated, and usually drunk.

A jaunty narrative for Hammett and hard-boiled fans only.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8027-7640-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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