Excellent reading for religious scholars and students.

The forgotten value and purpose of sacred scripture.

In her latest, esteemed religion writer Armstrong (Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, 2014, etc.), an ambassador for the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, once again demonstrates her encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religions. Here, she argues that modernity—and its tendency toward rationalism, literalism, and left-brain thinking—has robbed religions worldwide of the mystical and elastic power of scripture. The author champions “the forward-thrusting dynamic of scripture, which has no qualms about abandoning the ‘original’ vision but ransacks the past to find meaning in the present.” Throughout most of history, Armstrong shows, scripture did just that. It changed over time and in so doing helped adherents cope with changing times. In recent centuries, this quality has been altered, and “scripture, an art form originally to be interpreted imaginatively, had now to be as rational as science if it was to be taken seriously.” Armstrong argues that the trend of many movements to return to the source of the faith traditions behind their scriptures led believers to look backward when they most needed to look ahead. This mistaken view of scripture was further compounded by modernity’s elevation of science and reason, forcing people of faith to read scriptures literally as opposed to allegorically. Literalism, argues the author, leads either to fundamentalism or skepticism, either of which have negative consequences for any religion. Though the author adroitly switches among Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, and many other faith traditions, Western religions and Western thought are her primary reference points. Armstrong’s grasp of global religious history and thought is beyond impressive, but the depth of her analysis will overwhelm many general readers—though the 25-page glossary is helpful. For those willing to travel this road with the author, the journey is expansive and worthwhile and will make them reconsider what scripture means to those who admire it.

Excellent reading for religious scholars and students.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-49486-3

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998



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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