The only passion to be found here is in the title.



A deadly dull effort.

Rees, an Oxford-educated Catholic nun, has hopped on the Celtic bandwagon and introduced readers to saints like Patrick (a Brit who was captured by Irish pirates and so taken with Ireland that he stayed on to evangelize the locals), Cuthbert (the Bishop of Lindisfarne who founded a monastery at Ripon with his abbot Eata and eventually became a hermit), and Columba (the “Dove of the Church,” who hailed from royal Irish blood but wanted to be a monk from his youth). Unfortunately, Rees’s writing is so dense—imagine the most impenetrable academic tome—that it takes a determined reader to unearth the tidbits that usually make saints’ lives an engaging read. In the last few pages, Rees gestures towards a compelling argument—one that, had she fleshed it out, would have explained the book’s subtitle: Irish monks said they lived lives of “exile for Christ.” They felt bound to no particular patch of earth, but wandered far and wide to spread the Gospel. An inspiring model, perhaps, had Rees decided to devote more than a few paragraphs to it; but the stories Rees tells earlier contradict the conclusions she dashes off about Christians who “wandered lovingly” around the Celtic world. Sure, they may have pastored in three or four different places, but these saints’ lives were devoted to building institutions—and monasteries, churches, and communities are not the stuff of roving evangelists. Even had she made a more logically compelling argument, it is doubtful that many would have been moved by her uninspired and uninspiring prose; Rees can turn even the most fiery story of faith into a desiccated account that will motivate the reader to do little more than switch on his TV.

The only passion to be found here is in the title.

Pub Date: June 26, 2000

ISBN: 0-500-01989-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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