A felicitous, informative story from a highly knowledgeabe author.



A study of four unconventional crusaders against America’s obligatory godliness.

The late 19th-century brought out a variety of fascinating, vociferous characters challenging the official, mostly Protestant “moral order,” all of them branded as blasphemers. In his scholarly yet elegantly composed narrative, Schmidt (Religion and Politics/Washington Univ., St. Louis; Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman, 2010, etc.) calls this lonely seeker of truth the village atheist (or, variously, freethinker, infidel, rationalist, agnostic, liberal, secularist, humanist), who had usually broken with his or her early religious upbringing and separated from the perceived hypocritical strictures of the organized church. Despite the country’s founding on religious tolerance, writes the author, America was still very much a Christian nation, where unbelievers were ostracized as “wicked godless creatures” and frequently persecuted, as each of these infidels learned keenly. The itinerant secularist Samuel Porter Putnam, born into New England’s old Congregationalist order, re-created his spiritual journey as an “antihero” to the model Puritan saint of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. “Leaping off ‘the treadmill of conformity,’ ” (his adulterous philandering did not help matters), he wrote several seminal volumes, including My Religious Experience (1891) and 400 Years of Freethought (1894). Watson Heston was an influential cartoonist in Missouri, writing for the journal Truth Seeker; Schmidt smartly includes many of his wonderfully barbed illustrations championing civil liberties, tolerance, and free expression. Charles B. Reynolds, a disgruntled Seventh-day Adventist, was hounded for his irreverent lectures in New Jersey and convicted in a notorious 1887 trial for blasphemy. Most outrageous of all is the “obscenity” case of Elmina Drake Slenker, the freethinking activist from Virginia who was nabbed in New York vice czar Anthony Comstock’s sting operation for sending advice on marital sex through the mail. Schmidt emphasizes that it was not until the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins that atheists were fully protected.

A felicitous, informative story from a highly knowledgeabe author.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-16864-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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 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...


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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