A great conversation starter with plenty of room for more research and elaboration.

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COMING OUT CHRISTIAN IN THE ROMAN WORLD

HOW THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS MADE A PLACE IN CAESAR'S EMPIRE

Boin (Ancient and Late Antique Mediterranean History/Saint Louis Univ.; Ostia in Late Antiquity, 2013) puts forth a different perception of early Roman Christians and their effects on the empire.

Whereas Edward Gibbon and many scholars after him have concluded or assumed that the fall of Rome came about due to Christian influence and intolerance, Boin posits that there is little truth in that finding. Whereas many view Christianity as toppling old religions in Rome in the wake of Constantine’s conversion, the author argues that the empire remained religiously diverse for many years after that event. In this brief volume, Boin especially focuses on the Christians who lived seemingly uneventful lives, separating their faith practices from life within an emperor-focused, polytheistic society. These people may not have ended up in history books, but they did drive the normalization of Christianity in the Mediterranean basin. “By virtue of their creative resilience, not their zealotry,” writes the author, “they accomplished the most fundamental thing of all: they taught their Roman friends and neighbors to see Christians in a less threatening light.” Boin hopes to convince readers that Christian persecution was sporadic and in many ways restrained by Roman standards. Furthermore, when Constantine entered the church, the effect on Christianity may have been profound, but the effect on the empire was negligible. The author provides some thought-provoking points and successfully begins a dialogue with conventional wisdom on this subject. However, considering the breadth of his subject matter—spanning four centuries, the length of an empire and every socioeconomic class—it would be prudent for Boin to embark upon a lengthier, more scholarly treatment of his thesis. Attempting to tie his arguments in with current events—such as the selection of the current pope—the author fumbles, but overall, the book is accessible and intriguing.

A great conversation starter with plenty of room for more research and elaboration.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1620403174

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

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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