GOD'S PEOPLES

COVENANT AND LAND IN SOUTH AFRICA, ISRAEL, AND ULSTER

Bold, often brilliant, but perhaps strained attempt by Akenson (History/Queen's Univ.) to trace how ancient Hebrew scriptures have ``formed the fundamental pattern of mind of the three societies'' of South Africa, Israel, and Northern Ireland. Akenson begins by analyzing the Old Testament: ``The Bible is sulphurous in spots, not nice,'' he says, with Yahweh, a ``jealous God,'' purging 120,000 men of the House of Judah on one occasion, making a bargain with Jephthah to kill his own daughter on another. Akenson believes that the Old Testament laid great emphasis on social law, vengeance, a warlike deity, the value of particular lands, the significance of the Exodus, and group purity—each of which he finds reflected in the three societies he examines. The most obvious case is South Africa, where the belief in a chosen people, in the significance of an exodus into an untamed country, and in biological and cultural purity is particularly clear. Akenson's most strained analogy is that of Ulster, where he sees rigid thinking, sharp dichotomies, a prophetic mode of utterance, and territorial segregation at work. And his most controversial analysis is likely to be of Israel: ``The Israelis systematically deprived the Palestinian Arabs of their lands, segregated their places of residence, and developed a dual economy and severe restrictions on the civil liberties and civil rights of the indigenous population.'' Eight-six percent of Palestinian villages, he says, have disappeared within the past 20 years; military government has been used for ``security'' reasons to deny civil rights; and there are strict ``pass'' and travel restrictions. It's debatable whether Akenson's concept of resurgent Old Testament behavior is more theory than reality—his idea that Israel will move ever closer to the covenanting pattern seems confounded by the recent elections—but the author's sweep and grasp are impressive.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-8014-2755-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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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