Ultimately enlightening and entertaining.



Is there a war on Christmas? Yes, and there always has been.

Canadian historian Bowler (Santa Claus: A Biography, 2005, etc.) takes a seemingly modern topic—the vilification of Christmas—and shows it to have a centuries-old history. His survey of the issue covers everything from the deadly serious to the absurd, and it will leave readers amazed at the holiday’s ability to not only persist, but to thrive worldwide. The author begins by discussing the origins of Christmas, a well-worn path among modern academics. However, he sides with modern scholarship trends that Christmas is not an appropriation of pagan holidays but rather a result of traditional early Christian teachings about the nativity of Christ. Throughout the centuries of Christendom, the holiday faced uphill battles as reformers tried to squelch it, especially due to its connections with excesses in greed, gluttony, and violence. Entering the modern period, Christmas changed to a home-centered holiday and a particularly important part of the Christian and secular year. “Christmas in its ideal form is normality,” writes Bowler. This very fact led to its attempted subversion in recent centuries by French revolutionaries, German Nazis, communist regimes, and others. The “normality” of Christmas has also led to its appropriation by the fringes of society. The author concludes with the modern attacks on Christmas by everyone from the New Atheists to Wiccans, often using cheeky language to poke fun at would-be Christmas-stoppers: “It must take a heart of stone not to be moved by a Christmas display containing fifteen pink flamingos with Santa hats, but [the plaintiff] found it within herself…to object.” Though Bowler does not advance a particular religious view, it is obvious that he sees many of Christmas’ modern detractors to be little more than killjoys. The book ranges broadly from the tragic to the silly, and some readers may be left bewildered by the pendulum swings.

Ultimately enlightening and entertaining.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-049900-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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