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Tyrant : Shakespeare on politics
2018
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  New York Times Review

ATTICUS FINCH: The Biography, by Joseph Crespino. (Basic Books, $27.) This biography of the much-loved fictional character from Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" brings to life the inconsistencies of the South and of Lee's father, who was the model for the real Atticus. BEARSKIN, by James A. McLaughlin. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) Terrible things are happening to black bears in this debut mystery set in western Virginia. And the humans facing off against the novel's ex-con hero, now charged with protecting a wilderness preserve, are just as terrible. THE WORLD AS IT IS: A Memoir of the Obama White House, by Ben Rhodes. (Random House, $30.) In this humane and amiable insider's account of the Obama years, Rhodes traces his intellectual evolution as a key adviser to the president. Starry-eyed at the beginning, he learns to temper his idealism, but in a crass political era, he impressively avoids becoming a cynic. TYRANT: Shakespeare on Politics, by Stephen Greenblatt. (Norton, $21.95.) The noted Shakespeare scholar finds parallels between our political world and that of the Elizabethans - and in his catalog of the plays' tyrannical characters, locates some very familiar contemporary types. THERE THERE, by Tommy Orange. (Knopf, $25.95.) Orange's devastatingly beautiful debut novel, about a group of characters converging on the San Francisco Bay Area for an event called the "Big Oakland Powwow," explores what it means to be an urban Native American. A VIEW OF THE EMPIRE AT SUNSET, by Caryl Phillips. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) Set in England, France and the Caribbean, Phillips's fragmented novel uses the difficult, lonely life of the half-Welsh, half-West-Indian writer Jean Rhys (author of "Wide Sargasso Sea") to explore themes of alienation, colonialism and exile. THE MORALIST: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made, by Patricia O'Toole. (Simon & Schuster, $35.) O'Toole focuses on the public deeds of a president who has become a source of almost endless controversy. She describes a politician deft at shifting his views to gain power and achieve important reforms. PURE HOLLYWOOD: And Other Stories, by Christine Schutt. (Grove, $23.) These expert stories by a Pulitzer finalist are awash in money, lush foliage and menace, in prose so offbeat it's revelatory. DRAWN TOGETHER, by Minh Le. Illustrated by Dan Santat. (Hyperion, $17.99; ages 4 to 8.) In this picture book, a boy and his grandpa, who doesn't speak English, sit glumly until they begin to draw a comic-book epic together, bridging the language and generational divide in a way that's at once touching and thrilling. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books

  Publishers Weekly Review

Greenblatt (The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve), a Harvard humanities professor, offers a canny parallel to contemporary political concerns in this survey of tyrannical figures in Shakespeare's works. Using the protagonists of Coriolanus, King Lear, Macbeth, and the Wars of the Roses plays, among others, Greenblatt convincingly and bracingly explores the circumstances that allow for the rise of autocratic rulers. His quotations furnish vivid examples of how bullying and intimidation stifle opposition-Richard III declares "I'll make a corpse of him that disobeys"-and of how public figures can get away with brazen lies-a rebel leader in Henry VI, Part 2 claims an aristocratic mother, though in truth "she was a midwife." Nor does he ignore the role of sex as a motivator for tyrants and the role of women in defying autocrats, using as respective examples the self-loathing, misogynistic Richard III's declaration that he was not "made to court an amorous looking glass" and Cordelia's refusal to flatter her father at the start of Lear. Though Greenblatt names no names from current events, the reader can fill in the blanks with any number of contemporary politicians. The chapters on Richard III are perhaps the most visceral and immediate, but the entire book is full of insight, both for lovers of literature and for students of history and politics. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution.Cherished institutions seem fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules--these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues--and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them--and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare's work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today.
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