HOW GOOD DO WE HAVE TO BE?

A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF GUILT AND FORGIVENESS

An unconventional reading of the Garden of Eden story, offering the best-selling rabbi's suggestions about its psychological implications for the children of Adam and Eve. Rabbi Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 1981; To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, 1993; etc.) contends that we demand too much of ourselves and forgive too little. The traditional reading of the Adam and Eve saga as a paradigm of disobedience and divine punishment is responsible, he feels, for much of the unnecessary guilt that we heap on ourselves. We must free ourselves of the notion that God demands perfection of us. ``It is the notion that we were supposed to be perfect, and that we could expect others to be perfect . . . that leaves us feeling constantly guilty and perpetually disappointed.'' The purpose of religion, contends Kushner, is to ease our troubled souls and not to exacerbate our doubts and conflicts. Religion ideally teaches us that not only does God forgive our mistakes, but that our mistakes have a divine purpose, as experiences from which we can grow. ``Religion properly understood is the cure for feelings of guilt and shame, not their cause.'' And just as we must learn to forgive ourselves, we must be more forgiving of others. The alternative is to turn ourselves into victims and others into victimizers. Sin and punishment are not our inheritance from Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve's legacies of work, love, and the awareness of mortality make up the ``burden and challenges of being truly human.'' Nowhere, however, does Kushner consider more complex questions, such as how society should handle those who suffer not from an excess of guilt, but from its absence. Replete with personal anecdotes and references to contemporary literature, this is an appealing but ultimately shallow piece of feel-good pop theology. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1996

ISBN: 0-316-50741-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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