But beware: the book may leave you longing to see the play for yourself—and the 2000 production has been sold out for months.



A worthy successor to Shapiro’s stunning 1996 volume Shakespeare and the Jews.

Here, Shapiro (English/Columbia Univ.) turns his attention to the small Bavarian village of Oberammergau, famous throughout the world for the passion play it has put on once a decade since 1634. Because the play portrayed Christ’s Jewish adversaries as bloodthirsty deicides (not surprisingly, Hitler was a big fan), it has long aroused the ire of the international Jewish community and embroiled the village in unsought controversy. After long debate, it was decided to revise the text, ridding the script of anti-Semitic elements in time for the 2000 performance. But Shapiro is not interested only in the most recent incarnation of the play—he walks readers through the history of theater in western Europe, introduces the untutored to the Passion narratives of the Gospels, and discusses the evolution of passion plays (the oldest of which are in Latin and date to the 12th century). And he investigates the 350-year history of the Oberammergau play, recounting the Church’s attempt to suppress it in the 1770s as part of a larger effort to quash religious drama. In the 20th century, individual Jews as well as Jewish organizations protested the play (in 1931, for example, Philip Bernstein published an essay in Harper’s declaring that the Oberammergau play, which he had seen the summer before, fed Christian hatred of the Jew). Jewish criticisms of the play gained official currency after the 1965 Vatican declaration Nostra Aetate, in which the Church held that the crucifixion could be blamed on neither all the Jews living in the first century nor on Jews who were born after the death of Christ. Shapiro lays out the complicated story of the Oberammergau Passion play in spare prose, offering readers not just a fascinating microcosm of Christian Europe, but a lens onto larger questions about art and censorship.

But beware: the book may leave you longing to see the play for yourself—and the 2000 production has been sold out for months.

Pub Date: June 2, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-40926-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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