Philippe Guillaume, a former career diplomat now in his 80s, clearly has a deep well of knowledge about many things. Goodnight, his book of random bits of history, musings and stories, shares some of that knowledge with readers in brief bites.
Goodnight is a collection of 40 mostly page-length musings and essays. They skitter through a variety of themes and throughout the ages, from mathematical puzzles to pronouncements on religion to Santa Claus to wartime history. The book, Guillame writes in his preface, “seeks invasion in your brains after a long day and transforms the overpopulation of problems in a world of few solutions with a simple life. You will find fresh air and sensitivity.”
It’s an interesting premise, but rather than simplifying readers’ lives, the book is more likely to clutter their minds with confusion, as there’s little that holds these pieces together. And even taken individually, the mini-essays are generally too superficial to feel meaningful.
For instance, after writing just six paragraphs about Peter the Great, Guillaume asks readers to decide: “Friend or enemy of Europe?” A page-long entry about women’s status in the world leapfrogs from Ancient Roman times to WWII to the advent of birth control pills to modern times, ending with the author’s oversimplified conclusion: “I think that women’s lives are terrible, and men’s lives are easy.”
Guillaume is stronger in his whimsical passages, such as one about how the months battle each other with February trying to gain a few more days. His opening ode to his wristwatch is also clever and fun. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these entries to keep readers turning pages.
The text has been translated from Portuguese; perhaps something has been lost in that translation. As it stands in English, however, this compendium feels incomplete and will likely leave readers more puzzled than satisfied.
Also available in hardcover, ebook and audio book.