Well-written and relentlessly self-aware.



An introspective, decidedly un-cheery work that seeks to set the author’s record straight.

After Armstrong wrote an account of her seven years as a Catholic nun (Through the Narrow Gate, 1981), she followed it up with a cheery but admittedly untruthful memoir depicting her new life outside the convent (Beginning the World, 1983). Now, to describe the turnings her life took as she struggled to find her way in a secular world, Armstrong (Islam, 2000, etc.) adopts the image of a spiral staircase as a symbol of spiritual progress in T.S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday. First as a student at Oxford, where she earned a B.A. and M. Litt., but failed to obtain a doctorate, and then as a teacher in a private girls’ school in London, a position from which she was dismissed after a few years, she was what can best be described as an emotional wreck. Fainting spells while still in the convent progressed to episodes of amnesia and panic attacks, which led to years of useless sessions with psychiatrists, anorexia, even a suicide attempt and hospitalizations. Finally, in 1976, a physician recognized her epileptic seizures for what they were and put her on appropriate medication. At a loss as to how to make a living after losing her teaching job, Armstrong was in despair when publicity surrounding her first book brought her TV work. An early disastrous appearance convinced her that she could not make a career out of being an ex-nun, and when a chance to write a low-budget documentary on the early Christians came along, she grabbed it. By 1983 she was in Israel researching her subject. Exposure to Judaism and Islam while in the Middle East set her on a new course: writing about the historical development of the three great Abrahamic faiths, and in doing so examining her own ideas about religion, spirituality, and God. From her teenage search for God in a convent and her subsequent attempts to debunk religion, Armstrong struggled to clarify her own beliefs. What matters, she concludes at last, is not dogma, or right belief, but right action—in a nutshell, the Golden Rule.

Well-written and relentlessly self-aware.

Pub Date: March 8, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-41318-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?