Each essay is interesting enough, but taken as a whole they do not live up to the title.


Greeley, the controversial Catholic sociologist who moonlights as a popular novelist (see Irish Eyes, above), offers a slender

investigation of the Catholic imagination. We are soon presented with a dichotomy between what Greeley claims to be demonstrating about the Catholic imagination and what he actually accomplishes. He would have us believe he has set out to illuminate the deep religious sensibility that votive candles, stained-glass windows, vestments, and incense only hint at—a sensibility Greeley calls "sacramental" (because Catholics see all "created reality" as revealing "the presence of God"). What Greeley in fact provides is not nearly so grand: in a handful of essays on loosely related themes, he examines various Catholic subjects, such as sacred time and salvation. In one chapter, Greeley explores the idea of how the Virgin Mary embodies the maternal aspects of God and suggests that American Catholics tend to have a very positive view of her. (An added tidbit: married couples who are gung-ho about the Virgin Mary also tend to say they are very sexually fulfilled.) In later chapters Greeley considers the role of hierarchy and community in the Catholic imagination. Catholicism, he states, is an intensely communal religion—but it is one where communities are organized hierarchically (although Greeley prefers the less threatening word structure to hierarchy). Nevertheless, Catholics are not simply taking their marching orders from Rome—according to Greeley, the local parish priest is the authority figure to whom most Catholics look. The second chapter features a refreshing discussion of the erotic aspects of religious art. Drawing on the Song of Songs, the writings of Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and the Book of Tobit, Greeley urges Catholics—and Protestants—to consider erotic art as "quite necessary to a Christian worldview." Other findings, however—like Greeley’s musings on the relationship between church attendance and fine-arts consumption—should be viewed with suspicion. In the end, the book fails to hang together.

Each essay is interesting enough, but taken as a whole they do not live up to the title.

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-520-22085-4

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2000

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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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