Like its predecessors, this volume is demanding but essential reading for anyone interested in the ever-fascinating,...

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A MARGINAL JEW

RETHINKING THE HISTORICAL JESUS: VOL. III, COMPANIONS AND COMPETITORS

The latest installment (the third of a promised four) of priest-professor Meier’s monumental inquiry into the historical Jesus of Nazareth (Volume II: Mentor, Message, and Miracles, 1994, etc.).

Meier (New Testament/Notre Dame) steps back a bit to look at Jesus’ ministry in the context of his relationship with his followers and with the groups that competed with him. As before, Meier seeks a historical reconstruction that excludes faith commitments. (He recalls here his fantasy of four historians, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic, “locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library . . . until they have hammered out a consensus document on Jesus of Nazareth.”) And as before, he examines the historical core of the traditions about Jesus and his milieu with objectivity, precision, sound judgment, and massive learning. Here, Meier portrays a Jesus movement with an incipient, concentric structure, from the crowds around him to the disciples called and instructed by him to the Twelve whom he sent on a symbolic mission to all Israel, and a set of distinctive practices: baptism, the Lord’s Prayer, open-table fellowship with “toll collectors and sinners.” Meier's painstaking analysis of the extant traditions about the other religious groups in first-century Palestine—Pharisees and Sadducees, Essenes and Samaritans—illuminates Jesus’ teachings on matters like the resurrection of the dead and the inclusiveness of his movement, as well as his sense of his own remarkable charismatic authority. The result is a very Jewish Jesus, a figure quite different from the Hellenized Cynic or wisdom teacher of much recent historical-Jesus speculation. Although it won't make tabloid headlines the way more fanciful books in its field sometimes do, and it may prove frustrating for those looking for theological meat among the historical bones, Meier's massive enterprise is one of the most ambitious and exciting in modern Biblical scholarship.

Like its predecessors, this volume is demanding but essential reading for anyone interested in the ever-fascinating, never-ending quest for the historical Jesus.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-46993-4

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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