A confused and disappointing ramble through 13th-century papacy.



Ruminations on the career of a most inept and unlikely pope.

In 1294, a deadlocked College of Cardinals suddenly selected an 84-year-old hermit monk, Peter of Morrone, to be pope. Upon taking office as Celestine V, he spent 15 miserable weeks in the custody of the King of Naples before resigning, allegedly the only pope ever to do so. He was imprisoned by his successor, Boniface VIII, who promptly annulled the few actions Celestine had taken. After ten months of confinement Peter died of unknown causes. He was declared a saint in 1313. Unfortunately, the extant well-established facts about Celestine’s tenure appear insufficient to sustain a work of book length. Paraclete Press associate publisher Sweeney (Verily, Verily: The KJV—400 Years of Influence and Beauty, 2011, etc.) provides extensive background information about topics ranging from contemporary poisons to the Sicilian Vespers. He demonstrates his enthusiasm for medieval history, but the information often only has tangential relevance to the life of his subject. Where facts are urgently needed but lacking, the author attempts to compensate with unsatisfying conjecture about such central issues as the true motivation for Celestine’s resignation (he gave a number of reasons) and the cause of his death. Internal contradictions, overstatements and mysteries abound, but the central one concerns Peter’s character. Sweeney declares that Peter proved utterly incompetent as a pope because he did not have “a political bone in his body” and “did not understand how to live and succeed among powerful men on earth,” even though he had traveled extensively, lobbied popes and cardinals and built and administered an array of dozens of monasteries. Was his resignation an act of cowardice, holy wisdom or just weariness? No one really knows. Ultimately, does his story have any ongoing significance? The author labors to argue that Celestine’s resignation and death were a hinge point in the culture of the late Middle Ages, but his contentions are clearly a stretch, and this issue too is left unresolved.

A confused and disappointing ramble through 13th-century papacy.

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53189-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Image/Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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 youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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