Wills has good reason to share his own reading and study of the Quran with a populace largely ignorant of its contents, but...



Pulitzer Prize–winning author Wills (Emeritus, History/Northwestern Univ.; The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, 2015, etc.) defends the Quran in this layperson’s review.

Looking at the sacred text of Islam with unashamedly Western and inexpert eyes, the author finds that little of what most non-Muslims think about the book is true. In the first quarter of the book, Wills explains the impetus for studying the Quran: the West’s many post–9/11 blunders in the Middle East. The author does not mince words, arguing that the conservatives in the George W. Bush administration rushed into a war with a people, culture, and religion they failed to understand. Given an age of ignorance and fear, writes Wills, “it is time for us to learn about the real Islam, beginning with its source book.” The author goes on to explore various aspects of the Quran, often comparing it to the Old Testament and often pointing out popular misconceptions and quotes taken out of context in the West. While being clear that “the terrorists in modern Islam are not knowledgeable of their own religion in either profession or practice,” Wills focuses not on Muslims who misread the text but on Westerners who misread it or, more to the point, never read it at all. He points out that in cases of less-than-kind passages, Christianity and Judaism have such lines of scripture of their own (such as prohibitions against apostasy). Wills goes further to note that harsh acts described by the Quran have been equaled or even surpassed in Christian history as well. Compare, he suggests, the Quranic rule about amputating a hand or foot with the realities of 16th-century tortures and executions of heretics in England.

Wills has good reason to share his own reading and study of the Quran with a populace largely ignorant of its contents, but he does so in a vacuum, unattached from the many cultural expressions of this sacred text’s adherents.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-98102-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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