A well-balanced memoir that fits one family into a larger picture.

READ REVIEW

BORROWED BIBLES

A MEMOIR

From author Good (Robert Good and His Descendants, 2011) comes a memoir about growing up in 1940s America and his personal search for religious truth.

Having lived at some 31 addresses by the age of 20, the author had a childhood marked by frequent moves, from an assortment of small towns in Arkansas to a planned community in Washington state to the humming metropolis of Portland, Oregon. The author saw a range of places throughout his formative years, as his religious father moved the family either closer to a job (security guard for a military site during World War II, for instance) or farther away from something he despised (e.g., the decadence of a city like Portland). Detailing such events as a train ride from the segregated American South to the desegregated American Northwest—the conductor even had to announce when the border had been crossed—this story becomes one about a family’s ability to cope with both geographical and national change, with a deeply personal thread, particularly with the great attention paid to the author’s father. From his refusal to tip—“he didn’t leave a tip because he didn’t believe in receiving or giving charity”—to his disgust for churches that featured piano music in their services, the author’s father emerges as a cantankerous, hardworking, difficult yet touching figure. Though distrusting of any preacher not affiliated with the Church of Christ, his father was filled at times with religious fervor; his occasionally peculiar beliefs (such as his refusal to drink Coca-Cola based on the idea that a high-ranking executive at the company might be an atheist) helped spark a religious fascination in his son. The author, who believed through most of his childhood that he would one day become a preacher, compellingly details his experiences as a child trying to grapple with thornier biblical issues and the lack of assistance he received from adults. Culminating in brief passages about his adulthood, the book amounts to a swift, readable account of one man’s experiences growing up in the early days of postwar America.

A well-balanced memoir that fits one family into a larger picture.

Pub Date: March 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1458202536

Page Count: 216

Publisher: AbbottPress

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2014

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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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