Journalist Whitney (Whose Life? A Balanced, Comprehensive View of Abortion from Its Historical Context to the Current Debate, 1991, etc.) returns here to her Catholic schoolgirl roots in a work mingling autobiography and ethnography. After her father’s death, she traveled back to the Seattle area for his funeral and made the inevitable trek up to Rosary Heights, a motherhouse run by the same order (even the same nuns) that had trained her as a child. Whitney chooses to interview these nuns for her book, making her research effort an intensely personal journey. Like many other Catholic baby boomers, Whitney had left the Church in her late teens, turned off by its authoritarianism and its apparent oppression of women, only to begin craving a deeper spirituality in midlife. (In particular, her detailed descriptions of pre-Vatican II parochial school will elicit many shared memories from Catholics of her generation.) But in contrast to other “growing up Catholic” tales, this one is almost obsequiously respectful: Whitney’s parents are shown as devout and loving working-class saints, and the nuns are always benevolent, if strict. The author remains conscious that the nuns, who appear very constrained by Catholic patriarchy, continue nonetheless to negotiate powerful spaces for themselves within the patriarchy. She is fascinated by their covert but palpable feminism. Whitney allows the nuns’ stories of their callings, convent lives, and occasional deconversions to intermingle in their diversity; she draws a portrait of complex, engaging, and committed women. Throughout, however, there’s the sense that in seeking out these contemporary nuns, Whitney was already nostalgic about them as a thing of the past; the average age in the order is 55, and there are hardly any new converts. So she writes wistfully, as if chronicling an endangered species. Oversweet at times, but thoughtful and well written.

Pub Date: March 31, 1999

ISBN: 0-517-70854-X

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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