Norwich doesn’t skirt controversies, ancient and present, in this broad, clear-eyed assessment.

READ REVIEW

ABSOLUTE MONARCHS

A HISTORY OF THE PAPACY

From the disciple Peter to the reigning Benedict, accomplished British historian Norwich (The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean, 2006, etc.) fashions a spirited, concise chronicle of the accomplishments of the most noteworthy popes.

The author is comfortable navigating this vast terrain, which is essentially the history of Christianity—and he even manages to make the numbing litany of events palatable. Moreover, Norwich is not above questioning historical interpretation, such as over the controversy over John Paul I’s death in 1978—was he murdered? With Jesus’ pronouncement to his disciple Simon, that “Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” the leaders of the fledgling Christian church began to organize themselves. Norwich doesn’t dwell on St. Paul, but subsequent church elders in the first two centuries CE were Levantines—centered in the Greek-speaking world of the eastern Mediterranean—working to establish churches despite Roman persecution and mostly in Asia. The emperor Constantine’s adoption of Christianity in the fourth century, and construction of a basilica dedicated to St. Peter on the Vatican Hill, boosted Christianity’s profile enormously. However, marauding hordes laid waste to Rome over the centuries, and early popes had to solidify doctrine and orthodoxy, notably in the time of Gregory the Great and Leo II (who crowned Charlemagne). Norwich lingers over the schism between the Western and Eastern churches, the leaders of the Crusades, the seven popes who resided in Avignon, the rebuilding of the Roman Church during the Renaissance beginning under Nicholas V, the “monsters” (Alexander, Julius), the patrons of the arts (Leo X) and the rulers during the Counter-Reformation, who checked the tide of Protestantism. The author gracefully navigates through the challenges of the Age of Reason, revolution, the Risorgimento and the World Wars, examining the papal responses—e.g., Pius XII’s silence in the face of the persecution of the Jews.

Norwich doesn’t skirt controversies, ancient and present, in this broad, clear-eyed assessment.

Pub Date: July 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6715-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more