For Vatican watchers, a good reference to have on hand when the smoke next rises over St. Peter’s Square.



An oddity: an instant book dedicated to an event that has yet to happen.

If you’re a betting person, writes National Catholic Reporter Vatican correspondent Allen, don’t put your money on an American succeeding John Paul II as pontiff. In the spectrum of odds, “the only probability determined by geography is that the next pope will not be from the US. The Vatican prizes its diplomatic independence too keenly to risk it by electing a superpower pope.” The chances are good, he adds, that the next leader of the Catholic church will be a non-Italian: the 456-year-old Italian monopoly on the papacy was broken by the current pontiff, and of 133 voting members of the College of Cardinals that elects the pope, only 23 are Italian. With all those handicaps and cautions in mind, Allen goes on to survey the field, writing of strong and weak candidates, picking his 20-odd favorites, and long-listing the rest of the eligible cardinals. Every cardinal who enters the conclave, he cautions, is eligible and cannot be written off; those who would lay odds on what he calls “the upcoming papal sweepstakes,” he warns, “shouldn’t allow themselves to trip on their assumptions” and try to outguess the powerbrokers within the Vatican walls. Allen’s roster of candidates and their qualifications will be the strong selling point of Conclave. Breathless though the prose is, it conveys much that is of use, including, for instance, a thorough discussion of just what the job of pope entails (settling squabbles and traveling a lot) and how popes get elected in the first place.

For Vatican watchers, a good reference to have on hand when the smoke next rises over St. Peter’s Square.

Pub Date: June 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-50453-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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