A clear and deeply informed account of a religious work that seems to have no expiration date.



A scholar of religious history rehearses the story of C.S. Lewis’ influential disquisition on the commonalities among all Christian believers.

In the latest entry in the Lives of Great Religious Books series, Marsden (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Notre Dame; Jonathan Edwards, 2003, etc.) follows a fairly conventional map. After identifying his perspective and approach and sketching Lewis’ life (including his striking conversion to Christianity), the author takes us directly to the horrors of the Blitz in London during World War II and describes how Lewis, teaching at Oxford University, accepted a request from the BBC to do a series of radio programs about the fundamentals of Christianity. Commencing on Aug. 6, 1941, the talks (15 minutes long) were later published as three separate paperbacks; other radio series would ensue for him. Marsden notes that Lewis’ audiences, though substantial, were much smaller than for entertainment programs. We also learn that no one really knows who suggested he combine his broadcasts into a single volume, but when he did, Mere Christianity (1952) sailed into publishing history. Controversial from the outset—Roman Catholic reviewers tended to be harsher than others—the book was adopted by evangelicals, including Billy Graham, and remains in print today. Marsden analyzes the enduring effects of the book, identifying people whom it altered. Among them was Watergate figure Chuck Colson (the authenticity of whose conversion Marsden does not question). The author also quotes liberally from the various reviews of Mere Christianity, both positive and negative; these passages, essential for scholars, occasionally slow the flow of Marsden’s otherwise fluid narrative. He ends with a chapter about what he sees as the “lasting vitality” of the work. Lewis’ friend J.R.R. Tolkien has some cameos.

A clear and deeply informed account of a religious work that seems to have no expiration date.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0691153735

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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