Histories of the Jesuits are invariably apocalyptic or awestruck and give the reverend gentlemen far more credit for good or...



A chronicle of the famous (or, if you prefer, notorious) order of Catholic scholars and evangelists, narrated with fresh enthusiasm by British historian Wright.

Founded in 1534 by the Spanish nobleman Ignatius of Loyola, the Society of Jesus began with a dozen theology students at the University of Paris who made a vow to travel to the Holy Land to preach the Gospel to the Saracens—or, failing that, to offer their services to the pope for whatever missions he saw fit to propose. The latter turned out to be their destiny, and from the first the Jesuits were closely associated with papal power and Roman intrigue. Although Ignatius had not originally intended the combat of heresy to be one of his primary tasks, the intellectual and political climate of the times soon demanded it, and his followers proved to be formidable adversaries, winning back entire regions and even kingdoms (e.g., Hungary) to the Church. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the order became synonymous with reactionary politics and ultramontane theology, but in the years since the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) they have become associated with some of the most radical movements (e.g., liberation theology) of contemporary Catholicism. Wright offers an anecdotal (rather than a narrative) history, concentrating on many of the obscure but representative figures of the order throughout its long history and jumping rather freely back and forth across the centuries. Although he has a keen eye for many of the traits (notably, military organization combined with a strongly humanistic training) that brought the Jesuits some of their early success, he glosses over their slow and rather dismal decline in recent years, when they lost much of their membership and became less and less central to the life of the Church.

Histories of the Jesuits are invariably apocalyptic or awestruck and give the reverend gentlemen far more credit for good or ill than they deserve: Wright aims to walk the middle ground, but he ends up sounding like a cheerleader all the same—which is a pity, because his account is clearheaded, modest, and highly readable.

Pub Date: May 18, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-50078-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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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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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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