A landmark achievement.

In a lyrical, multilayered biography, a Georgetown classics scholar creates this generation’s Augustine.

O’Donnell’s study of Augustine’s life, work and influence would be worth the price of entry if it consisted only of the first 86 pages, which offer one of the most nuanced and sensitive readings ever of the Confessions (including an evenhanded investigation of why Augustine was so obsessed with chastity). O’Donnell reads the Confessions generously, but he also makes clear that the great autobiography is a literary work, not an unmediated picture of Augustine’s life. Throughout, O’Donnell draws on cutting-edge scholarship—including the hypothesis, based on Pierre-Marie Hombert’s 2000 study “New Investigations in Augustinian Chronology,” that Augustine may have risen to prominence later than scholars previously thought. There are no hints of hagiography here: indeed, O’Donnell likes to laugh a little at the great saint, and in a chapter entitled “Augustine Unvarnished,” he lays bear the African bishop’s ambition and social-climbing. O’Donnell’s rendering of the historical context is as important as his exegesis of Augustine. He limns fourth-century Christianity in order to show both how revolutionary some of Augustine’s own theological doctrines were, and how much those doctrines had to be “tamed” before they were embraced by the church. Along the way, he explains how Augustine literally wrote (he dictated, mainly) and explores “Augustine’s tongue” (that is, late antique Latin). And O’Donnell shows how Augustine remains germane to our world—“the idea that wisdom . . . lies in the pages of a book” is owed to Augustine, and, even more important, his idea of God still powerfully influences how Christians, Jews and Muslims understand the deity. Finally, this magisterial work is distinguished not only by its innovative scholarship, but also by O’Donnell’s elegant style—even the prose in the appendix on “Pursuing Augustine Further” is lovely (recommending Augustine’s sermons, the author writes that “Another place to lie in wait for him is in his church on Sunday morning.”)

A landmark achievement.

Pub Date: April 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-053537-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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