Seriously contentious thinking, at times graceless and a little pushy.



Internet maven Rushkoff, whose previous ponderings (Why We Listen to What “They” Say, 1999, etc.) have delineated threat and thrill in cyberculture, now has news for millions of seriously observant Jews: they don’t get it.

Why are Judaism’s numbers slipping? The author’s readings of its history suggest strongly to him that the flock, not just the rabbis, is supposed to be personally in charge of interpreting scriptures and tenets and, thus, determining how a religion designed to evolve will evolve. Instead, he asserts, misplaced rabbinical strategies for recovering a growing body of “lapsed” congregants—stressing literal interpretations, resisting marriage outside the faith (to maximize procreation of faithful), and endless fundraising based on threats against a “chosen” people and their promised land, Israel—are having exactly the opposite effect. Moreover, Rushkoff laments, Judaism is being dislodged from its bedrock values, which he presents as “iconoclasm, abstract monotheism and social justice.” The road back? Rushkoff suggests no less than letting go of the “chosen” notion altogether (“Judaism is an idea, not a race”) and, with it, the fixation on Israel. Strong stuff, and laid on thick. While the author seems well grounded in historical interpretations of Jewish ideas (Freud is a favorite source), many will reject his claim that enough Jews concluded God must have had something to do with anything as horrible as the Holocaust to trigger a mass postwar return to “purity”—rigidity and formality—in liturgical practice. (The attendant notion, however, of post-Holocaust elevation of the Orthodoxy to the point of its ability to influence both domestic and foreign policy in Israel does have a certain intrigue.) Strangely, he makes little or no mention of the new Torah for conservative US congregations, the Yetz Hayim, annotated with accumulated archaeological data relegating major “historical” milestones in Judaism to the realm of myth—a minor but clear example of Rushkoff’s own plea to rabbis to finally treat their congregations as grownups.

Seriously contentious thinking, at times graceless and a little pushy.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-609-61094-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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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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