The story of the relationship, real and imagined, between the biblical land of Israel and the modern state of Israel, would make a wonderful book—but this extended apology for the perceived faults of modern Jewish nationalism isn't it. Erlich, formerly an academician (English/City College, CUNY) and now a psychotherapist in Seattle, presents Jewish history and thought as a seamless thread that runs from ancient Mesopotamia to today's Tel Aviv. The contrary idea, the denial of connections between ancient and modern Jewish ideals, has become fashionable in some anti-Zionist circles; but Erlich's unsophisticated counterargument is equally untenable. His central thesis is that ``the Bible treats nationalism as a literary idea that is able to serve as a summation of the intellectual life.'' Therefore modern Israel, as the inheritor of this tradition, can only be understood as a manifestation of intellectual tradition. Here we enter a rarefied realm in which all of biblical history, and subsequent Jewish history, is read as striving for the abstract and the imaginative—a thousand years of Jewish life as a long meeting of PEN. And the psychotherapeutic enters here as well. For the Bible, ``literary'' culture not only promotes a culture of literacy and the imagination (is that why there were all of those wonderful American Jewish novelists?), it also encourages mental health. Commenting on the covenant in the Book of Leviticus, which threatens ``terror and consumption and burning ague'' on those who worship other gods, Erlich states that ``the modern reader may mistake this for hellfire. But the emphasis is not on terror but on creating both individual and national health of mind.'' The real kicker here is the book's closing chapter, a defense of the West Bank settlers and an attack on their critics. It is also a counterattack against Edward Said's The Question of Palestine (1979): Contrary to Jewish nationalism, Erlich argues, Palestinian nationalism is intellectually hollow. Not that we wouldn't benefit from a sustained, intelligent response to Said's polemic. But again, Erlich's own intellectually hollow polemic isn't it.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1995

ISBN: 0-02-902352-1

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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