A thought-provoking—if troubling—Katrina-driven jeremiad about the ills besetting American Christianity.

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Katrina and the Need for Revival in the American Church

A Hurricane Katrina memoir doubles as a call for religious renewal.

Bass opens his debut work with some of his most vivid memories of being a chaplain at University Hospital when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. He recalls the heroic struggles of the hospital staff as it dealt with the loss of electricity, the isolation from outside help, and the pitiless heat and humidity that were no longer kept at bay by air-conditioning (“It was a wicked heat,” he writes. “It was almost unbearable. I can still feel it”). But unlike such classic Katrina memoirs as Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic, Bass uses the catastrophe to springboard into a larger polemic aimed at Christian readers (his self-professed target audience; the most he offers non-Christians is the prospect of conversion). In Bass’ view, God was trying to “wake up His church in this country” and may have used Hurricane Katrina to do it. The shock of such a morally questionable supposition, that the all-loving ruler of the universe would choose drowning hundreds of terrified senior citizens as a way to talk about church reform, is offset somewhat by the author’s simultaneous characterization of the storm as a metaphor. He pivots from asking “How could I have ever known that one day I would find myself right in the middle of this terrible disaster?” to warning his readers: “Your storm may be nearer to you than you think.” The book is stern on the subject of the “moral termites that are eating away our foundations in America,” but achieves its most effective rhetoric on the need for American Christianity to undergo a revival, a return to the fundamentals of faith. The uneven quality of the writing can be distracting—Bass comments on it but did not actually fix it prior to publication—yet the overall message of institutional revitalization should strike a powerful chord with Christian readers.

A thought-provoking—if troubling—Katrina-driven jeremiad about the ills besetting American Christianity.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4908-1919-8

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2017

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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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