Solid and scholarly, surprising and sobering.



Award-winning historian Chidester (Comparative Religion/Cape Town Univ.) offers a comprehensive history of Christianity—from Bethlehem to the First Church of Cyberspace (a worship Web site).

The author aims to “provide engaging and challenging occasions for thinking about Christianity”—and, for the most part, he succeeds impressively. He begins in Roman-ruled Judea, just before the birth of Jesus, noting that “eating and drinking in the presence of a divine being” were significant activities in the Roman religion and were soon integrated by Christians into their celebration of the Eucharist. Chidester retells the advent stories (reminding us that the earliest gospels were not composed until about 70 a.d.), follows the exploits of the apostle Paul, chronicles the establishment of the early church (which was not a building but “the act of gathering together for a ritual”), and describes the original rite of baptism (which required the converts to remove all their clothing). It was Constantine (ca. 273–337), the first Christian emperor of Rome, who was greatly responsible for the rapid spread of the religion. In subsequent chapters (as thematic as they are chronological), Chidester examines the evolving Christian conceptions of heaven and hell, the church’s emerging “military mission” in the middle ages, the significance of relics and icons, the scholarly debates that divided the church, and the pursuit of heretics and witches. After a thoughtful discussion of Martin Luther and the Reformation, Chidester globe-trots a bit, showing how Christianity reached its farther shores, how it changed people and was in turn changed itself. He gives an unblinking account of the effect of the Holocaust on both Christians and Jews, noting that it “challenged the notion that God could be both all-good and all-powerful.” Chidester strives throughout to maintain a disinterested tone and only occasionally emerges from it—e.g., he gently points out a moment of hypocrisy in the Falwell ministry.

Solid and scholarly, surprising and sobering.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-251708-2

Page Count: 608

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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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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