The second review (in Kirkus Reviews)

Last week, the first review of my book came out, by one of the two major trade publications, Publishers Weekly. Now the other one, Kirkus Reviews, has followed with its review of my book. The folks at Kirkus call themselves “the world’s toughest book critics,” which is great, because they also seem to like the book.

Here is the link.

Unfortunately, it’s behind a subscriber wall (although articles become free a few weeks before publication of the books reviewed in them).


… The author narrates Hannibal’s story with precision, but his analysis extends beyond the highlights of the battlefield. In this retelling of the ancient drama, the major players become archetypes whose motivations, triumphs and failures mirror those of more recent historical figures. The influence of Carl Jung pervades as the narrative as Kluth digs into their psyches—examples include author Amy Tan’s teenage rebellion, Eleanor Roosevelt’s loneliness and Albert Einstein’s dark side—to create a plausible formula for surviving disaster or even sudden, explosive success. Though brief, the contemporary examples bridge the gap between modern readers and the ancient world. …

I especially liked this passage:

[Kluth’s] desire for a balanced life (and European disdain for ostentation) makes his voice unique among others who analyze the nuances of greatness. Kluth follows each character beyond the key moments that defined their places in history to determine the value of their lives as a whole, from the rise and fall of their careers to their evolving relationships with families and friends. The result is a study of the ephemeral nature of power that grapples, often very effectively, with the meaning of true happiness.

Meatier than the average self-help book, Hannibal and Me is a rare blend of military strategy and emotional intelligence that offers a more mature solution for winning life’s battles.

Also, I’m very intrigued indeed by the “Books Similar to Hannibal and Me” they have chosen. (Follow the link and look.) The first one: “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl.

Frankl is not in my book (he was at one point, but I had to cut). But Frankl has, of course, featured prominently here on The Hannibal Blog:

What excellent company to be in. Thank you, Kirkus!

The first review (in Publishers Weekly)

Well, it appeareth that the first review of my book is out. That might seem surprising, given that Hannibal and Me won’t be published until January 5th. But the review is in Publishers Weekly, a trade journal aimed at book sellers, book agents and other booky types who need to, uhm, book ahead.

Here it is. Excerpts:

Several books on the legendary achievements of Hannibal have dwelled on one or two aspects of the ingenious general’s life, but none has tackled the tricky mix of the impact of his life choices on and off the battlefield as well as this new analysis. Kluth, the West Coast correspondent for the Economist, brings a contemporary slant to Hannibal’s military successes.

Here is the middle:

… Kluth does superior work in spelling out the elusive values of success and failure …

And here is the end:

Realistic and timely, Kluth’s book uses historic truths to move us past the frequent traps of success and failure to mold practical, productive lives.

I can’t argue with that. 😉

Thanks, PW.

Amy Tan on praise and criticism

Just a little bit more from Amy Tan, from this interview with her. The topic is close to home for me as a writer, as for anybody who tries to be creative and thereby takes the risk of humiliation. (Isn’t that what creation is?)

As a writer or creative type, you need good and honest feedback to see whether you are/are not connecting with other minds. But it gets complicated:

“The question for me is, “How am I affected by praise?” I am more fearful of praise these days because I don’t want to depend upon it. In the world of book publishing, there is never a comfortable balance point where you either have enough praise or enough criticism. If you get this kind of review then you worry about what’s going to happen with the next. So there’s never any comfort point.
On the other hand, I welcome criticism when I’m writing my books. I want to become better and better as a writer. I go to a writer’s group every week. We read our work aloud. They’re old friends, and they treat me as an equal in the group, meaning they tear my stuff apart like anybody else’s.

All those gushing book reviews

Joe Queenan in the New York Times has an amusing but stirring piece on ridiculously over-the-top book reviews–in short, most reviews:

The least-discussed subject in the world of belles-lettres: book reviews that any author worth his salt knows are unjustifiably enthusiastic. …

the vast majority of book reviews are favorable, even though the vast majority of books deserve little praise. Authors know that even if one reviewer hates a book, the next 10 will roll over like pooches and insist it’s not only incandescent but luminous, too. Reviewers tend to err on the side of caution, fearing reprisals down the road. …

such reviews are unfair to the reader, who may be horn­swoggled into thinking that Philip Marlowe really would tip his hat at the author, or that the author has gone toe-to-toe with Joseph Conrad and given the ornery old cuss a thrashing. Books are described as being “compulsively readable,” when they are merely “O.K.”; “jaw-droppingly good,” when they are actually “not bad”; “impossible to put down,” when they are really “no worse than the last three.”

I found myself smirking and cringing all the way through his essay, depending on which of my various “book” hats I was wearing in a given sentence.

Hat Nr. 1: Occasional reviewer

In The Economist, of course.

The first thing to remember about a book review is that there is not only an author somewhere hoping for a good review but also a reviewer hoping to be told by his editor that he has written a good piece (ie, the review). And how boring is a review full of (to take examples from Queenan’s paragraph above) “O.K.” and “not bad” and “no worse than the last three.” Realistically, the editor would spike the entire piece.

So, the reviewer reverts to standard journalistic methodology: “Simplify and exaggerate.” (Before you foam with anger at all journalists, consider the alternative: “Complicate and obfuscate.” Right. Thought so.)

So now the review being written becomes “stronger”. The book is really good or really bad. Next question: If I make it really bad, can the author or anybody allied to him take revenge, now or later? Maybe? Well, perhaps I’m better off making it really good. But not all the time, because then I would lose credibility. Maybe make it really bad (to use Queenan’s ratio) 1 out of 11 times?

At The Economist we try to get around this in two ways:

1) We don’t have bylines, which protects the writer to a large extent. (Authors could in theory find out who trashed their book, but in practice are too awkward and self-conscious to inquire.)

2) We don’t allow conflicts of interest, and stopped reviewing books written by staff a few years ago. (I’m amazed that not all newspapers do this!) In those situations, the reviewer can only lose, and the author usually too.

I leave it up to you to decide whether this addresses all the subtleties of human nature.

Hat Nr. 2: Aspiring author

As you have noticed, I’m writing a book. And when the time comes, I am hoping that it will get fair and tough glowing and drooling reviews.

Seriously, I already dread the entire process that apparently comes next. Prostituting myself for blurbs (the moratorium I support is unlikely to come soon enough to be helpful), then again for reviews, then again on Jon Stewart (if I’m lucky).

Hat Nr. 3: Reader

God. It’s really annoying when the review does not, quickly and easily, tell me if this book is worth two weeks of my night time or not. I mean, really.
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