Banks' ecological warnings might strike even the most fervent environmentalist as rather apocalyptic, yet in the best of...

VOYAGER

TRAVEL WRITINGS

Acclaimed fiction writer Banks (A Permanent Member of the Family, 2013, etc.) turns an able hand to nonfiction in this expansive, elegiac reflection on the pleasures and deceptions of travel.

The 75-year-old author recognizes the failings of narratives based solely on fading, self-serving memories, yet he cannot resist indulging in recollections from 30 years ago. “A memoir is like a travel book,” he writes. “Whether short or long it's a radical reduction of remembered reality and is structured as much by what it leaves out as what it puts in.” In the lengthy title essay, set in 1988, Banks and his soon-to-be-fourth wife embark on a wide-ranging odyssey of the Caribbean, one that wakens many ghosts (of wives and adventures past) while conjuring encouragement and despair in equal measure. The author loves the Caribbean and its people but loathes what is happening to the islands to accommodate, then as now, ever increasing hordes of cruise-ship and package-tour visitors, to homogenize distinctive cultures, and to obscure the real history of slavery. Resolution was a principal reason that Banks, who lived for a time in Jamaica, undertook this return journey to the tropics. Written in 2015, the piece is at least as much about Banks' courtship narrative, his personal history, and his regrets as it is about an enviable assignment in the Caribbean. But the frequent self-flagellation occasionally feels excessive. The other essays in the book are less melancholy, offering observations and insights that, despite their ages, seem timeless. After all, the point of travel is knowledge, not topical information. Of the more “conventional” travel pieces here, the most resonant and vivid are those on the Everglades and the author’s mountaineering in South America and the Himalayas, the last at age 72.

Banks' ecological warnings might strike even the most fervent environmentalist as rather apocalyptic, yet in the best of these pieces, his clarity of vision and muscular prose are as transporting as a mountain ascent.

Pub Date: May 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-185767-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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

NIGHT

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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