The point being, as Armstrong writes, that tolerance is a sine qua non in a world in which so many people “prefer being...

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THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION

THE BEGINNING OF OUR RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS

Prolific religious-studies scholar Armstrong (The Spiral Staircase, 2004, etc.) offers a lively, big-picture treatise in comparative religions, finding similarities more than differences.

Borrowing from the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, and with ecumenical good cheer, Armstrong evokes an Axial Age that lasted for about 700 years, from roughly 900 to 200 b.c. During that time came great faiths that “have continued to nourish humanity”: Hinduism and Buddhism from India; Daoism and Confucianism from China; rationalism from Greece; and monotheism from what is now the vicinity of Israel. Armstrong allows that there’s quite a lot of scholarly guesswork attendant in looking into the prehistory of these faiths; in recent years, for instance, it has been determined—for the time being, anyway—that Zoroaster lived centuries before the usually presumed sixth century and that Laozi (Lao Tse), the Daoist philosopher, lived centuries later. Still, there is enough good data to show that each of these worldviews, sometimes independent of each other, sometimes by word of mouth, addressed similar concerns in quite similar ways: Each recognized that suffering is “an inescapable fact of human life,” indeed part of its definition; and each developed a body of doctrine or learned opinion about such core ethical principles as hospitality, empathy and “concern for everybody.” Of course, these big ideas come wrapped in very different packages; though informed by “the Deuteronomists’ passionate insistence on the importance of justice, equity, and compassion,” the ancient Israelites took their instructions from the “one true god,” whereas the Greeks advanced the same sorts of ideas through a panoply of gods and the Buddhists through no god at all.

The point being, as Armstrong writes, that tolerance is a sine qua non in a world in which so many people “prefer being right to being compassionate.” A useful text for an intolerant and uncompassionate time.

Pub Date: April 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-41317-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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

NIGHT

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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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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