A comprehensive, balanced, and insightful review of the liberal American Protestant story.

THE END OF EMPATHY

WHY WHITE PROTESTANTS STOPPED LOVING THEIR NEIGHBORS

The rise and fall of progressive American Protestant leadership.

Political science professor Compton provides a historical review of the role of social justice and reform within white Protestant churches in the U.S., noting that the importance of social issues through much of American history was especially related to the authority of church leaders and the strength of denominational and ecumenical organizations. However, as the author shows, after more than a century of such authority tying together the activities of American churches, these structures fell apart rapidly beginning in the turbulent 1960s, opening the way to a starkly different religious landscape in the modern U.S. Compton begins by exploring the unique American view—beginning with the Puritans—“that Americans were duty bound to remake society in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom”—a view that situated the concept of sin as communal in nature. From that view arose the Protestant movements against slavery and other social ills. Compton notes that in the 19th century, the power of progressive denominational authorities was joined by a social need for professionals to belong to established churches, a trend that sociologist Max Weber explored during the Progressive Era. Among the many high-water marks in the history of progressive Protestantism’s firm grip on the rudder of public affairs were temperance, suffrage, New Deal social programs, and the struggle for civil rights. Multifaceted changes in society, however, from the rise of Evangelicalism to the radicalism of Vietnam-era protests, led to the near collapse of once-mighty Protestant denominations and related ecumenical networks. As Compton chronicles, there followed the rise of the religious right and the increasing disregard for edicts from progressive church leadership, trends that seem to have found their apotheosis in the form of evangelical support for Donald Trump.

A comprehensive, balanced, and insightful review of the liberal American Protestant story.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-006918-6

Page Count: 408

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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