THE HIDDEN POPE

THE UNTOLD STORY OF A LIFELONG FRIENDSHIP THAT IS CHANGING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CATHOLICS AND JEWS

Intended for a wide audience, this tribute to John Paul II, via a Polish-Jewish friend, verges on the literary equivalent of a dashboard saint. Known for his engaging accounts of true-life crimes (he won an Edgar for Power to Hurt, 1996), O’Brien here celebrates the opposite end of the moral spectrum in the person of the reigning pope. O’Brien wants to show that, hidden behind the image of “moral scourge” that “secular intellectuals” have laid over the pope, is a tireless worker for redress of Christian anti-Semitism. Largely through diaries of and interviews with John Paul II’s Jewish friend since childhood, Jerzy Kluger, who now lives in Rome, O’Brien tells the story of youthful good will between the young Karol (Lolek) Wojtyla, and the Jews of his hometown, Wadowice, Poland; their shared suffering under the Nazi occupation; the pope’s historic visit in April 1986 to Rome’s Great Temple; and the slow process of talks, quietly promoted by Kluger, that culminated in the Vatican’s official recognition of Israel in December 1994. O’Brien acknowledges the widespread impression of Polish anti-Semitism and, especially in his evocations of childhood scenes in Wadowice—one of these shows young Lolek responding enthusiastically to a cantorial concert in the local synagogue—helps to mitigate it. But serious students of Jewish-Christian relations will be disappointed with this sometimes chatty friendship story, which is more assertively Polish-Catholic than it needs to be. When O’Brien calls the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac “the progenitor of all contemporary re-examinations and re-evaluations of Judaism in the time of Christ,” because of his influence on Vatican thought, he ignores the earlier scholarship along the same lines of the Anglican clergyman James Parkes; and Jewish readers will squirm over the descriptive “Polish-American,” applied to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As for the pope, filtered here through others’ adoring eyes, he remains as “publicly aloof,” in the author’s words, as his office demands. (25 b&w photos, not seen) (First printing of 250,000; $250,000 ad/promo; feature in Time magazine; author tour)

Pub Date: April 3, 1998

ISBN: 0-87596-478-8

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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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 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

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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

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