A roundabout historical lesson that employs the classical texts with irony and irreverence.

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PAGANS

THE END OF TRADITIONAL RELIGION AND THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY

Georgetown University provost and author O’Donnell (The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History, 2008, etc.) offers a revisionist tour of the reach and purpose of the gods for the Romans, from the height of Rome’s temple building by Augustus in 17 B.C. to the Christian incursions of the A.D. fourth century.

Senior statesmen privately consulted the ancient Greek Sibylline books kept beneath the Temple of Jupiter in Rome not to predict the future so much as to “determine what it would take to placate the gods—and thus produce a better future.” O’Donnell emphasizes how very gradual changes took place in how the people viewed their religion, as in the fluid exchange between the Greek and Roman pantheons and a general willingness by migrating people “to discern a familiar god behind an unfamiliar name.” The author describes with relish some of the various rituals practiced in ceremonies of sacrifice at the Roman temples, including prodigious spilling of blood, and popular notions of divination, such as augury (the watching of birds) and haruspicy (the reading of the innards of various animals), all of which were slowly eclipsed by the spread of Christianity. Yet Christians, too, had their magic incantations and secret societies. Examining the works of such philosophers as Plotinus, O’Donnell explores the eager adoption of new ideas about a more powerful deity and bloodless ritual. Yet Constantine’s gathering of bishops at the Council of Nicaea in 325 spurred the birth of paganism, as Christianity was fundamentally defined in opposition to it: as a rejection of false gods and old ways. Eventually, O’Donnell arrives at what a pagan is (from the Latin paganus, or peasant): anybody who was not a soldier of Christ.

A roundabout historical lesson that employs the classical texts with irony and irreverence.

Pub Date: March 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0061845352

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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 youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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