A worthy read for anyone interested in the modern relevance of Christian teaching.


The Immoral Landscape (of the New Atheism)


A bold defense of Christianity against its most ardent critics, the New Atheists.

Besieged both by scandal and the rise of a vociferous group of critics, the Catholic Church has, in the eyes of many, failed to mount a strong defense of itself. In his first book, Gravino takes it upon himself to do precisely that. He focuses on the increasingly popular contention that celibacy, as a form of unhealthy sexual repression, caused the difficulties the church has had with pedophiles. First, the author argues that there is no clearly observed causal connection between Christian sexual morality and the transgressions of some of its priests; the connection, one often drawn by the church’s detractors, is more the expression of a cultural prejudice than an empirical inference. Also, Gravino says that a Christian moral psychology is actually the key to human flourishing and what is now generally referred to as mental health. The practice of self-control regarding one’s desires, including sexual activity, is a principal instrument of happiness as it is understood in spiritual terms. Afflictions that have plagued contemporary society—sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, obesity, etc.—are all results of a lack of self-restraint, which Gravino says is the result of spiritual decline. According to Gravino, the popularity of Freudian psychology, which looks at sexual expression as ungovernable, plays a key part in the libertinism that now presents itself as an alternative to Christian teaching. The entire study is painstakingly researched and meticulously documented as well as carefully argued. Gravino presents his case in the spirit of the natural law teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, eschewing a facile reliance upon scriptural authority in favor of an appeal to rational demonstration. “I contend that the Bible contributes genuine knowledge to the understanding of our species. And I furthermore insist,” Gravino writes, “that when science wanders into the terrain of our species and contradicts the truths of the Bible, it does so at a terrible cost, decreasing knowledge rather than increasing it.” The author’s tone can be a bit peremptory at times, undermining his philosophical and scholarly caution. However, his is a clear and principled defense of the church that is arguably superior to anything the institution has offered on its own behalf.

A worthy read for anyone interested in the modern relevance of Christian teaching.

Pub Date: July 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5153-8086-3

Page Count: 284

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 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 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.


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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