Mix Harold Bloom with Stephen Jay Gould, and you’ll get something like Kass. A wonderfully intelligent reading of...



A learned and fluent, delightfully overstuffed stroll through the Gates of Eden.

“It was all because of Darwin,” writes Kass (Committee on Social Thought/Univ. of Chicago), that he came to study the biblical book of Genesis, in which the earth is created, populated, depopulated, and scourged in various awful ways. Blending science with philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, and other disciplines—but with only a smattering of theology as such—Kass turns to some of the big questions that science cannot or does not care to answer, as well as to a few ticklish other matters: “How, we wonder, does the speaker know what he is talking about? Why should we believe him? . . . On the basis of what other than prejudice—prejudgment—can we decide whether the text is speaking truly?” Kass provides no firm answers (how could he?), but he grapples nobly with the notoriously difficult text from first words (“In beginning,” he translates, eschewing the definite article, “God [’elohim] created the heavens and the earth”) to last (“the very last word of Genesis is ‘in Egypt’ [bemitsrayim]”), commenting, elucidating, and arguing along the way. Kass, now chairman of the President’s Bioethics Committee, is inclined to a generous view of human and divine nature, though his Garden—a place that appeals to “beings with an uncomplicated, innocent attachment to their own survival and ease”—conceals plenty of Darwinian thorns. On the matter of Cain and Abel, for example, he ventures, “readers recoil from considering the possibility that enmity—yes, enmity to the point of fratricide—might be the natural condition of brothers,” while among the other matters Jacob must wrestle with, Kass has it, is “nature’s indifference to human merit.” But all those big questions and problems, Kass concludes, resolve into an overarching one, the real subject of Genesis: “Is it possible to find, institute, and preserve a way of life that accords with man’s true standing in the world and that serves to perfect his godlike abilities?” Hmmm.

Mix Harold Bloom with Stephen Jay Gould, and you’ll get something like Kass. A wonderfully intelligent reading of Genesis—and surely worthy of sequels, a fat volume for each branch of the Pentateuch.

Pub Date: May 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-4299-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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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