A thorough, stimulating rendering of the Mormon past and present.



A comprehensive history of the popular religion bearing distinctly American roots.

Timed for release just as the cogs in the 2012 presidential election start turning, Bowman’s (Religion/Hampden-Sydney Coll.) study of Mormonism shows how this brand of Christianity has always sported a strong relationship with American politics and values, whether in sync or at odds with them. Founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith Jr., the “mercurial” upstate New Yorker and “seducer of biographers” who received visions and translated the “golden plates” on which were written the religious tenets revealed to him, the Mormon faith, according to Bowman, combines a “sacramentalism and priesthood reminiscent of Catholicism with a decidedly Protestant devotion to scripture and suspicion of trained clergy.” Writing to educate a readership unfamiliar with Mormon beliefs, the author claims that “Americans have admired Mormons for their diligence, their rectitude, their faith, and their honesty; they have feared them for their zealotry, their polygamy, and their heresy.” While many—including Mark Twain, who famously dubbed Smith’s Book of Mormon “‘chloroform in print’ ”—were skeptical of its apocalyptic dogmatism and determinism in building a new Zion, others quickly took to the values that somewhat mirrored the expansionist society and followed Smith west. Some of Smith’s ideas, such as abstinence from tobacco and “strong drink,” were right in keeping with those of the 1830s American temperance movement; others, such as the notions that God had a corporeal body and sanctioned polygamy, proved less acceptable to society at large. Bowman paints a multidimensional portrait of a separatist movement riddled with fascinating dichotomies: a patriarchal religion at once embracing community and committed to worldwide missionary service yet sanctioning at various times in its history gross discrimination against women, those of African descent and homosexuals. The author also includes informative appendices of the church hierarchy, lists of Mormon scripture, past presidents of the church and other significant figures, and a bibliographic essay.

A thorough, stimulating rendering of the Mormon past and present.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-679-64490-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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