Kass delivers another thought-provoking volume about a seminal work of Scripture.



Expansive commentary on the book of Exodus.

Humanist scholar Kass, who has spent much of his life studying the Hebrew Bible, follows up The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (2003) with this exploration of Exodus. In these massively important scriptural passages, Kass sees a primary document about “people formation, freedom and order, law and morality, the leader and the led.” The story follows the Hebrew slaves as they are led out of Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, to Mount Sinai, where they received the law that, in many ways, formed the basis of Judaism as we know it. As such, Exodus is not merely a foundational book of history and ethics, but also a work of political philosophy. Indeed, Kass argues that the text must be read “philosophically,” meaning with a view toward gaining wisdom, as one would read any other prominent work of antiquity. His commentary, therefore, is not an academic study exploring the text line by line, nor a religious investigation seeking divine revelation. Instead, Kass meticulously examines the text with the goal of discovering new truths; these may or may not be religious, but they have lessons for any society as it develops. Throughout, the author uncovers intriguingly political angles to age-old biblical tales. For instance, as Moses and Aaron first approach Pharaoh with their demands, Kass sees the encounter as a moment of failed diplomacy. Kass also offers lesser-known or even radical interpretations of Scripture. For instance, he reads the story of the golden calf not as a simple example of disobedience but as a moment orchestrated by God, allowing an opportunity for collective sin. “The Israelites’ first true act of national freedom,” he writes, “was their disobedient demand that Aaron make them gods.” This act, writes Kass, helped shape a formally servile peoples’ sense of freedom of will.

Kass delivers another thought-provoking volume about a seminal work of Scripture.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-300-25303-0

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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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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