THE HUMAN CHRIST

THE MISGUIDED SEARCH FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS

An ambitious but unsatisfying intellectual history of the quest for the historical Jesus by a contributing editor to Lingua Franca. Despite the subtitle, Allen’s point is actually that this quest reveals far more about those who engage in it than it does about a distant man from Galilee. Rejecting, for instance, theories that Jesus was black or a feminist, she writes, —the search for the ‘historical— Jesus in the end has yielded a figure who is not historical at all, and to whom historical reality is irrelevant.— She attempts to document the —historical quest— impulse in nearly all its incarnations in Western culture in the past 2,000 years, skipping from Roman emperors to German Romantics to contemporary iconoclasts like John Dominic Crossan. Along the way, we make some interesting incidental discoveries but get lost in the sheer weight of this undertaking. The author also neglects the larger question of why different philosophers, from wildly divergent cultural contexts, have resorted to the same demythologizing impulse again and again. There is surely a significant parallel, for example, in Thomas Jefferson’s careful trimming of all miracles out of his New Testament and the contemporary Jesus Seminar’s relentless pursuit of his authentic sayings. That said, some of her jagged chapters contain fruitful insights. Particularly intriguing is her discussion of Joseph Ernest Renan’s —cinematic Jesus,— a feminized, sensual creature whose portrayal benefited from Renan’s friendship with the lascivious Gustave Flaubert. Throughout, though, Allen’s tone is too harsh for her subjects, especially those still living. Elisabeth SchÅssler Fiorenza is ridiculed for presenting Jesus as —an androgynous personage of feminist leanings,— while other feminists —have re-constructed a re-imagined historical Jesus on the cross as a woman suffering from menstrual cramps.— There are some perceptive moments here, but the vast scope of the project and its occasional biases overshadow Allen’s obvious erudition.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-82725-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more