Mixed reviews for John Paul II from a veteran BBC Vatican correspondent. Willey spends almost no time on John Paul's rise, concentrating instead on the Pope's 13-year reign. The author allows that he's ``fascinated and appalled'' by John Paul's pontificate. The entrancement comes from watching the Pope juggle a hundred hot potatoes at once, most notably the demise of Communism, for which John Paul receives ample kudos. One welcome chapter outlines the state of religion (so-so to vigorous) in Eastern Europe. But the Church is strongest now in Africa and Latin America, and here the Pope gets mediocre-to-flunking grades. Some of the issues are merely curious (how should the Church respond to spear-dances at the altar during African masses?), but the bulk of Willey's beef with the Pope is substantive and political. John Paul, he argues, is inconsistent on the relation of religion and politics, entering the fray when it suits him (as in Poland) but condemning others who do the same (as in his criticism of liberation theology). Willey's biggest kvetch is with the Pope's handling of ``cafeteria Catholics'' (who ``pick and choose their beliefs as they please''). Here, Willey discerns a ``bulldozer papacy'' whose ``strong-arm methods'' have ``sacked'' the Church of unorthodox theologians and legitimate lay dissent. He also rejects papal condemnation of birth control, in vitro conception, and abortion. Church finances, women's rights, relations with other religions, and AIDS are also scrutinized. Willey's arguments have been made before, but he comes up with some wonderful anecdotes along the way (e.g., that the bullet with which Ali Agca shot the Pope has been woven into the gold crown worn by the Virgin's statue at Fatima). A competent riposte to the spate of recent pro-John Paul II books (e.g., George Weigel's The Final Revolution, p. 1247, and Richard John Neuhaus's Doing Well and Doing Good, p. 970). (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-08798-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

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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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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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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