MARY THROUGH THE CENTURIES

HER PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF CULTURE

A disappointingly superficial treatment of the most revered female figure in the Western world. Pelikan, of Yale University, undoubtedly one of the outstanding scholars of Christian history, repeats a formula that worked quite well in his most recent book, Jesus Through the Centuries (1985): Follow the chronological development of a religious figure through 2,000 years of high culture and theology, organize your chapters around archetypal categories, and sprinkle liberally with literary quotations and discussions of art and music. Unfortunately, this time his approach misses the mark, for he almost entirely ignores the role of Mary in popular culture. Pelikan fails to acknowledge that even in the early Church Mary's impact on the popular imagination had already outpaced her theological importance. Details of such devotion are largely absent. For instance, Pelikan mentions in passing that a Mariocentric festival may have influenced a prominent fifth-century theologian, but we are told nothing about the festival itself, its rituals, or its participants. It is only toward the end of the book, in the brief chapter entitled ``Woman Clothed with the Sun,'' that Pelikan begins to address such matters as Mary's supposed appearances at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima. Here he implicitly notes, finally, that Marian miracles have meant more to ordinary folks than all of Mary's appearances in Dante and Milton put together. There are other flaws. After hyping the ``nigra sum'' (``I am black and beautiful'') connection in the introduction, Pelikan devotes only two pages to observing that the Madonna has appeared as a black goddess in many cultures. Some strengths of the book include Pelikan's comprehensive knowledge of Byzantine Christianity (sorely neglected by many scholars), his clear passion for art and music, and his easy writing style. The strengths unfortunately do not compensate for the book's foundational disregard of popular piety. (17 b&w and 16 color illustrations, not seen) (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club selections)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-300-06951-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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