A colorful, exhaustive, occasionally exhausting contemplation of global history’s cavalcade of avatars.

ACCIDENTAL GODS

ON MEN UNWITTINGLY TURNED DIVINE

A thesis on how divinity and its varied incarnations have surprised cultures for hundreds of years.

In her debut, Subin, an essayist who studied the history of religion at Harvard Divinity School, takes readers five centuries deep into a survey of (mostly) men who were inadvertently lionized. She first explores a myriad of sanctifications, including figures in the Rastafarian movement of the 1930s and, of course, Christopher Columbus, who was adulated as a “celestial deity.” Especially illuminating is the author’s case study of how Gen. Douglas MacArthur unwittingly became deific throughout four distinct episodes in his military tenure. Subin surmises the military leader became “quadrisected, each quarter experiencing a different way to become fleetingly, precariously divine.” The author also considers French American anthropologist Nathaniel Tarn, who was sainted by conflicted villagers in the highlands of Guatemala in the 1950s. The book tours the “accidental godlings” formed from the glorified doctrines of religious leaders, politicians, dictators, and royal princes while citing numerous references on the ultimate consequences of divine exaltation or the dangers of enmeshing religion and politics. Subin examines how the appearance of fetish idols by European imperialists “integrated into some of the foremost theories of Western modernity” and legitimized conquest, while other forms of deification, particularly involving White authority figures, contributed to early forms of classism, sexism, and racism. In the concluding section, Subin addresses how the very idea of Whiteness became a divine prognosticator: “Race, the scholar-activists remind us, is not only a word but a sentence, of who can live and who will die.” Written in erudite, scholarly prose, Subin’s appreciation for these “gods” is a vibrantly narrated yet overlong text richly embellished with generous illustrations. The author’s exploration captures mortals throughout history who were feted, shaped myths about power and influence, and were startlingly exalted into godly status.

A colorful, exhaustive, occasionally exhausting contemplation of global history’s cavalcade of avatars.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-29687-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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