A strongly worded polemic on the dangers of defensive exceptionalism.



A prickly, uneven survey of Christian persecution that delves into modern-day fundamentalist intolerance.

The notion that early Christians were meek, passive and unrelentingly persecuted for their religious beliefs has been manufactured by early church historians like Eusebius, writes New Testament scholar Moss (Early Christianity/Univ. of Notre Dame; The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom, 2010, etc.), disguising the true violent, militaristic tone of the early Christian message. The author addresses deeply troubling aspects of an us-vs.-them mentality she sees rampant in today’s secularized world, from Islamic suicide bombers to the use of Joan of Arc by the French political right to Republican Christian voters viewing themselves as a persecuted minority. First, Moss wades through examples in the ancient world, including the high-profile cases of Greek and Roman heroes like Achilles, Socrates and Lucretia, who died for their beliefs, offering a model for the early Christians to borrow from. The author then moves into the early Christian era, when accounts of martyred apostles like Stephen and converts like Polycarp and Perpetua established a rich literary tradition after the imitation of Christ, with details altered and shaped by later Christian apologists. Key to Moss’ narrative is the history of Roman persecution of Christians, which she finds overblown, explaining the “sporadic” persecution as a politically motivated, entirely understandable move to suppress a pesky group of insurgents who constituted a threat to order and piety. The myth of martyrdom—and the expectation of huge rewards in heaven—was effective in organizing a cohesive early Christian identity, which involved the notion of being “under attack” and justified a violent reaction. While none of Moss’ arguments are particularly new or striking, she provides an intriguing venture that begs for more research and focus.

A strongly worded polemic on the dangers of defensive exceptionalism.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210452-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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