A lackluster offering from a literary giant.



Why and how to read the Bible in modern times.

Wilson (Victoria: A Life, 2014, etc.) looks back on a lifetime spent despising religion only to realize that the Bible itself has some place in human society. He uses as his vehicle a clunky, quasi-fiction/quasi-memoir format in which he re-examines Christian Scripture through various lenses. Along the way, he is led by a slightly older and certainly more mature counterpart, a woman identified only as “L.” Through occasional chance meetings at museums, conversations over coffee, and periodic letters, L. opens Wilson’s mind to see the Bible in a richer light. The author even states that his book is in fact a book that L. had hoped to write but never completed. In the course of this story, Wilson learns to “read” the Bible not as a text to be argued over in terms of historicity and other elements but as a voice of the divine for, and by, the mass of people in any given age or place. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr., “read” the Bible properly by not arguing over the facts of the Exodus but by inspiring African-Americans through that story of freedom. William Blake “read” the book of Job correctly by seeing in it a man who must turn from rule-following to spiritual awakening in order to be redeemed. Wilson finds that for oppressed peoples, especially, the Bible is a source of empowerment. “Those who regard religion as mental poison blind themselves to the forcefulness of religion as a power for good against monstrous injustices,” he writes. Wilson comes off as pompous and arrogant at times, flaunting his intellect and his literary connections—e.g., when he describes awaking early to read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Istanbul. As for his conclusions, they are positive but vague.

A lackluster offering from a literary giant.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-243346-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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 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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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