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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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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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


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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