Next book


A fine thematic introduction to gnosticism, concentrating on the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi (Upper Egypt) in 1945. Pagels teaches the history of religion at Barnard, and she has spent practically all of her young academic life working with the Nag Hammadi manuscripts in one way or another. She brings her considerable competence to bear on the subject without overwhelming the reader with scholarly minutiae. Pagels sees in gnosticism a "powerful alternative to. . . orthodox Christian tradition," an alternative she clearly finds attractive. Gnostics treated Christ's resurrection as a symbolic rather than a corporeal event. They rejected the authoritarian, bishop-dominated structure of the orthodox church. They looked beyond the masculine imagery of the patriarchal God to various concepts of a feminine or bisexual divinity. They avoided the excesses of the martyrdom cult and its apotheosis of the suffering Jesus. In surprisingly modern fashion, they cultivated a religion that stressed personal enlightenment over corporate belonging, insisting that "the psyche bears within itself the potential for liberation or destruction." These and other gnostic tenets were repressed by mainstream Christianity because, Pagels claims, they constituted a political threat to the hierarchy. In the calmer, freer atmosphere of contemporary Christianity, they can better be appreciated for their intrinsic richness. Pagels' advocacy of gnosticism is restrained and responsible—she admits, for example, that its elitist, intellectualist qualities made it ill-suited as a faith for the masses—but this partisanship, plus the absence of solid explanation of the movement's historical roots, may create a misleading picture of it as a sort of heroic prototype of liberal Protestantism. Otherwise a clear, reliable, richly documented guide.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 1979

ISBN: 0394502787

Page Count: 229

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1979

Next book


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

Next book



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

Close Quickview