An elucidating study of why hell continued to matter in early America.

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DAMNED NATION

HELL IN AMERICA FROM THE REVOLUTION TO RECONSTRUCTION

Religion scholar Gin Lum (Religious Studies/Stanford Univ.) delves into the writings and memoirs of early Americans deeply concerned with the issues of hell and salvation.

The Calvinist doctrine of predestination held so dear by the first wave of immigrants to the New World began to split by the mid-18th century. While revivalists like Jonathan Edwards preached hell-and-brimstone sermons—e.g., “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—a backlash urged by Universalists and other liberal ministers presented a more benevolent God, with an emphasis on “moral living over a change of heart,” as well as “the ethical example of Christ rather than the traditional Calvinist doctrine that Christ’s death on the cross saved the elect alone.” The Enlightenment notions of rationality and the perfectability of man influenced the latter ministers and the coterie of Deist founding fathers like Thomas Paine, who denounced the doctrine of original sin as “absurd” and “profane.” Gin Lum illuminates the two doctrinal camps by contrasting portraits of the two John Murrays who arrived in America in the mid-1700s: “Salvation” Murray became a popular and dynamic preacher of Universalism’s message that “at the final judgment all humanity would be cleansed of sin,” while “Damnation” Murray preached of the horrors of eternal damnation to enrapt revivalist audiences. The rise of republicanism helped temper the “efficacy of hell for social cohesion,” replaced gradually by an evangelical sense that repentance of sins could avoid punishment in hell. Gin Lum draws on a wealth of conversion memoirs from exemplary Americans like Sarah Osborn and Benjamin Abbott and takes into account the booming print industry churning out fiery sermons and passionate exhortations for mothers to keep children out of sin’s way—or else. The author also looks extensively at the messages of Western missionaries and anti-slavery crusaders in delivering souls from perdition.

An elucidating study of why hell continued to matter in early America.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-19-984311-4

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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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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