Moynahan hopes “to have caught something of the essence of the faith” on his vast canvas. But it is never clear exactly what...



An overlong, underinterpreted chronicle of Christianity by a veteran British journalist.

There is no dearth of one-volume histories of the faith on bookstore and library shelves, and this latest survey by Moynahan (Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned, 1997, etc.) is not likely to rattle the competition. Beginning with the gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus and ending in a 21st-century world of troubled ecumenism among the churches and intense religious conflicts without, Moynahan tells a familiar story of martyrs and emperors, conquerors and crusaders, inquisitors and witchfinders, popes and mendicants, monks and missionaries, slavers and colonizers, reformers and counter-reformers. He flings his net as wide as possible, and although his own writing is undistinguished, he has a fine ear for the apt quotation and an eye for the odd and eccentric. But he lacks a coherent view of his subject or a mastery of its primary sources, and he is sometimes unreliable in detail. Moynahan has a tabloid journalist’s preference for the sensational, indeed the quasi-pornographic; he never averts his gaze from the tortures, burnings, and massacres that disfigure Christian history. Sex, politics, and greed also draw a great deal of his attention; other aspects of his subject are less fervently treated. He has little to say of theology—which, judging by his summaries of Paul, Augustine, the doctrine of transubstantiation, Luther, and Calvin, is probably a good thing. He has little empathy with religious thinking or spiritual practice. But most frustratingly, for someone offering a history of Christianity, he has no sense of the network of relationships that constitute a meaningful history. Instead, he simply presents one blessed thing after another.

Moynahan hopes “to have caught something of the essence of the faith” on his vast canvas. But it is never clear exactly what that essence might be. Readers in search of a historical understanding of the faith have many better places to look.

Pub Date: April 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-49114-X

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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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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