A sharply written treatise dangerous for the weak of faith.

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GOD - FACT OR FICTION

An atheist in full cry assembles scientific and historical evidence upholding his conviction that a supernatural God is a scientifically baseless human fantasy cynically upheld through the ages by bogus religions.

In this rigorously well-argued philosophic tract, debut author VandenBerghe, a retired senior civil servant in the Belgian Ministry of Finance now in his mid-80s, maintains that the more science discovers, the less educated people will believe in God. One result, he says, will be eventual mass inoculation against the plague of religion. “The Church has always been afraid of humankind’s advancing knowledge, sensing that the falsehood of religion would therewith be brought to light,” he writes. To offer proof of science’s debunking of religion, VandenBerghe reviews scientific theories and discoveries ranging from the Big Bang, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Planck’s quantum theory, and, more recently, string theory and the overreaching M-theory, which, he notes, is, in the opinion of theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, “the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe.” These portions of the book make for heavy reading. It’s not always clear whether the author commands full understanding of these abstractions or is merely regurgitating what others have said about them. But no matter; he still succeeds in conveying their world-changing views. In chapters composed of numbered paragraphs reminiscent of a legal brief, he also delves in the historical damage to human progress wrought by religion, sparing none of the major faiths. He declares Jesus a myth and Jewish and Christian scriptures fabrications but reserves particular animus for Islam: “Muslims make one think of Ivan the Terrible, the first tsar of Russia, who prayed three hours a day and spent the rest of the day torturing his many prisoners.” And if the existence of a God, much less a personal God, is dubious at best, what gives life meaning? VandenBerghe intrepidly asserts that simple, honest humanism contains all the goodness humanity needs and without the necessity of a fictional supreme being. But he goes beyond, expressing the fervent hope that atheism will spread outward from an increasingly godless Europe to the entire world. In a stupendous understatement, the author does at least concede that “were religion to disappear today, many people would feel a void.”

A sharply written treatise dangerous for the weak of faith.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1496981912

Page Count: 230

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 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 sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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