Surprisingly frank and moving.



Memoir of a spiritual writer and poet who discovered relevance to her life and work in the longforgotten and difficult-to-define concept of acedia.

When Norris (The Virgin of Bennington, 2001, etc.) first encountered the word “acedia” in the writings of a fourth-century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, she instantly recognized it as an apt description of her spiritual malaise. Here she struggles to pin down the meaning, naming its components as apathy, boredom, enervating despair, restlessness and the absence of caring. She also attempts, not entirely satisfactorily, to distinguish this spiritual state from the psychological state of depression, which her husband, fellow poet David Dwyer, experienced. She explores acedia’s etymology and her personal history with it, sharing stories from her childhood, adolescence and long, crisis-plagued marriage. As a teenager, she responded by keeping busy, reading Kierkegaard’s thoughts on despair and writing prodigiously. As a young adult, having lost the religious moorings of her upbringing, she found that John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress awakened in her a renewed sense of conscience. Years later, as she became her husband’s full-time caregiver, acedia, which had never been totally absent from her spiritual life, renewed its grip on her, and with it, a temptation to doubt. Her attraction to monastic prayer and her strong interest in the monastic life—examined in her books Dakota (1993) and The Cloister Walk (1996)—is evident here in the numerous references to the writings of early monks and to conversations with Benedictines at the monastery near her home, where she is an oblate. In the final chapter, “Acedia: A Commonplace Book,” Norris presents dozens of quotations on the subject, demonstrating convincingly that soul weariness has been a persistent and troubling phenomenon throughout recorded history.

Surprisingly frank and moving.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59448-996-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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?



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet