“What Orthodoxy offers,” Merrill writes, “is light.” As does he.



A gem that shows off Merrill-the-poet’s gorgeous writing, and Merrill-the-reporter’s sharp eye—and introduces a new Merrill, the pilgrim.

Mount Athos is a remote Greek peninsula, inhabited by Orthodox monks. Merrill (International Writing Program/Univ. of Iowa; The Grass of Another Country, 2004, etc.) was drawn there in 1998 when he was depressed, in credit-card debt, and drained from his reporting in the war-wracked Balkans. His marriage was crumbling, he was working too many hours a day and too hard—and so he went on a pilgrimage. On Athos, he hiked, prayed and saw monastic life up close. He discussed Robert Frost with one wise and genial monk, ate “almost inedible” food in monastic refectories, and tried sleepily to keep a prayer vigil. An on-again-off-again Episcopalian, Merrill found himself reading patristics and Scripture with an ardor he once reserved for poetry. (Things of . . . is embroidered not only with snippets from the Bible and Church fathers, but with insights from Updike, Larkin, Edward Lear, Simone Weil—treats alone that are worth the price of admission.) Indeed, the author experiences what he thinks might be a conversion, a deepening of faith, some sort of turning toward God, whatever one wants to call it. He comes to appreciate all—or, at least, most—things Orthodox, from icons to repentance. And his time on this peninsula where no women are allowed promises to transform his marriage. He begins to think of marriage as a holy discipline and learns something about both forgiveness and love. This is travel-reporting and memoir, as Merrill takes readers both to Athos and to the inside of his soul. That he shares his interior life with vulnerability and honest self-criticism saves the book from the tedium that can attend travel-writing, while his rendering of the Athos landscape wards off the narcissism that can attend spiritual memoir.

“What Orthodoxy offers,” Merrill writes, “is light.” As does he.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-679-46305-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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