A frank, exhaustive, marvelously readable study.



A sharp, clear, deeply researched examination of the consistent application of the founding religious principles to American foreign policy, from the colonists’ sense of a Protestant exceptionalism to President Barack Obama’s “Good Niebuhr Policy.”

The invocation of God and religion to sanctify foreign-policy decisions is not a new or surprising idea, as Preston (American and International History/Cambridge Univ.) learned especially when he was researching his work on McGeorge Bundy and the Vietnam War (The War Council, 2006). However, the extent to which religion has been used consistently to shape U.S. diplomatic history proved “an odd and unsettling discovery.” Here the author thoroughly documents that discovery, from the self-righteous Puritans’ establishing their “City upon a Hill” to the modern-day presidents acting as self-appointed popes. Preston explores this fascinating paradox of a nation founded on freedom of religion yet exhibiting, in its relations with the wider world, a profound belief in a Judeo-Christian sense of “exceptional virtue.” America’s unique geographical position in the world allowed it “free security” to engender idealistic choices and values, reflected in its moralistic foreign policy. Its founding Reformation Protestant society eventually developed tenets of pluralism, libertarianism, a deep suspicion of despotism and hostility to arbitrary power, a faith-based progressivism, nationalism and even isolationism, all of which Preston explores systematically. America’s reaction to what it perceived as corrupt and tyrannical foreign influences thus allowed the republic to model itself as virtuous and in the right, spreading “God’s own cause” in subsequent dealings with the Indians, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans and Filipinos, largely for worse. Preston sifts carefully through the “religious biographies” of certain key policymakers, including John Quincy Adams, William McKinley, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Foster Dulles and others.

A frank, exhaustive, marvelously readable study.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4323-1

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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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