An in-depth, thought-provoking challenge to two millennia of Christian interpretation.



To understand Jesus today, writes novelist and religion expert Carroll (Warburg in Rome, 2014, etc.), he must first be understood as a Jew.

The author takes as his muse Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s World War II–era statement: “What is bothering me incessantly is the question—Who Christ actually is for us today?” Looking at Jesus through the lenses of the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, Carroll discerns a different image than much of Christian history has before. Above all else, he asserts, Christ must be seen as and understood as a Jew. Though a seemingly obvious statement, the author explains at length how Christians have failed to recognize Christ’s Jewishness through time—or at least not taken it seriously. Exploring the Gospels as storytelling, not as history, Carroll describes a man who was seen by many as the fulfillment of Jewish hopes in his own time, while he was recorded as breaking with Jewish intransigence in later Scripture. The author explains that the Jesus Christ of Christendom was remembered in the wake of two grand disappointments: the lack of his immediate return and the destruction of the Temple. Given this, his followers adapted, seeing him as the embodiment of a new temple and his church as the kingdom of God on Earth. As usual, Carroll’s writing is highly erudite; reading him is an educational experience in itself. Traditionalists will balk at his acceptance of some modernist theories, however. For instance, he finds it plausible that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist and goes on to argue that, like other people, Jesus was “defined by…the moral lapses that would have made real the need for repentance that brought him to John.” Even the author’s conclusion that “we are here less to believe in Jesus than to imitate him” will raise some eyebrows.

An in-depth, thought-provoking challenge to two millennia of Christian interpretation.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0670786039

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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