A sometimes scintillating, sometimes exasperatingly esoteric examination of "our current American obsession with angels, with parapsychological dreams, with the 'near death experience' and its astral body manifestations" and, in particular, their "clear analogues in the formative period of ancient Gnosticism." Bloom, the prolific (The Western Canon, 1994; The American Religion, 1992; etc.) professor of humanities at Yale and English at New York Univ., is fascinated by the belief system, rooted in the ancient Persian faith known as Zoroastrianism and most fully expressed by the ancient sect of Gnostics, that an eternal, divine being is immanent, in the self, waiting to be known, rather than transcendent, in heaven, waiting to be revealed. In prose that too often seems composed in a kind of scholarly shorthand and that comes close to burying the reader in the author's formidable erudition, he finds elements of this belief in aspects of medieval Christianity, the teachings of the Sufis, and in the 16th-century Jewish mystical movement of Lurianic Kabbalah. He also finds it in such modern thinkers such as Emerson. He argues, not totally convincingly, that gnostic impulses lie at the heart of much end-of-the-century American popular spirituality. In the process, Bloom has some piquant if harsh things to say about New Age spirituality ("an endlessly entertaining saturnalia of ill-defined yearnings"). He is one of the very few contemporary writers to try seriously to trace the underlying religious and intellectual roots of our fin-de-si≤cle. However, Bloom never quite distinguishes the conceptual limits of Gnosticism, i.e., how it differs from antinomianism. Some of the facile intellectual judgments here seem to offer more a tour de force of knowledge and cleverness than the fruits of a sustained period of reflection.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 1996

ISBN: 1-57322-045-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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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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