On firmer ground than John Cornwell’s error-plagued Hitler’s Pope, and far better written, Kertzer’s study is nonetheless...

A careful examination of the role of the Catholic Church in persecution, pogroms, and, eventually, the Holocaust.

In 1987, Pope John Paul II ordered the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to investigate whether the church was in any way accountable for the slaughter of millions of Jews earlier in the century. The commission returned, 11 years later, with a carefully worded report admitting that the church had been guilty of “anti-Judaism,” that is, opposition to the Jewish religion, but not of anti-Semitism, opposition to the Jewish people. Comforting though it may have been to worried clerics, the commission’s finding was an evasion of historical reality, argues Kertzer (History/Brown Univ.; The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, 1997). He charges that the Vatican’s leaders instead engaged in a conscious campaign to denounce Jews “not only as enemies of the Church but as enemies of the nation, not only as threats to the Christian religion but to Christian people.” As late as the mid–19th century, he writes, the church demanded that Jews within Italy be confined to ghettos and limited to selling used goods for a living; when a Tuscan duke considered allowing the Napoleonic emancipation of the Jews to stand, Pius X angrily reminded him that “the spirit of the Church . . . has always been to keep Catholics as much as possible from having any contact with the infidels.” That spirit drove generations of hate-mongers, as Kertzer shows, and with only rare exceptions, such as the comparatively liberal Benedict XV, the popes of the 19th and 20th centuries actively gave ideological and material aid and comfort to the persecutors of Europe’s Jews. Their acts of complicity culminated in mass murder—an outcome, Kertzer suggests, that was all but inevitable.

On firmer ground than John Cornwell’s error-plagued Hitler’s Pope, and far better written, Kertzer’s study is nonetheless likely to be challenged.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40623-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001



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


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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