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A meandering journalistic testimony of the author's experience with a strange southern Christian sect. Reporting for the New York Times on the case of Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling preacher who attempted to kill his wife with snakes, Covington (Lizard, 1991) attended a ``homecoming'' meeting at the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, Summerford's converted gas station church. He wanted to observe firsthand the phenomenon known as ``signs following.'' The practice is based on the literal interpretation of Jesus' prophecy: ``And these signs shall follow them that believe...they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them....'' In order to fulfill the prophecy, believers worship with poisonous snakes, drink strychnine, and speak in tongues. After WW II the signs following cult came to insular places like Sand Mountain, Ala., where traditional life had been unsettled by the rapidly changing times. Covington became caught up in the religion. A recovered alcoholic and one-time war correspondent, he was attracted by the hypnotic effect the signs following service had on him and by the danger of handling four-foot rattlesnakes and deadly copperheads. He testified before the congregation, traveled the meeting circuit, and even handled snakes. After about two years, he realized—or remembered—that the people he was worshiping with were backward, petty, bigoted, and somewhat suicidal, and he decided to return to his more conventional Southern Baptist church in Birmingham. Covington's story is a mixture of sociology, history, and autobiography, but the parts never coalesce. Detours from the main tale add little interest: Covington's fruitless search into his past to understand his fascination with snake handling, for example, leads him to discover that Covingtons were arrested for snake handling in the 1950s; he finds this significant even after he learns that those Covingtons were not related to him at all. A piece of American exotica sadly mishandled.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-201-62292-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1994

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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 19, 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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