A provocative reconsideration of early modern European history.

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EARTHLY POWERS

THE CLASH OF RELIGION AND POLITICS IN EUROPE FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUTION TO THE GREAT WAR

British historian Burleigh (The Third Reich, 2000) examines the rise of “the religion of politics,” a cultural shift that gathered force in the late-18th century and paved the way for the omnipotent-state ideologies of the 20th.

In this first of a projected two-volume study of totalitarianism, the author observes that “talk of civil religions,” whether Americanism or Germanism or other -isms of present and past, “coincides with periods of intense crisis.” He traces one virulent strain to the 17th-century Italian cleric Tommaso Campanella, who imagined a proto-totalitarian state called Solaria, complete with its own official cult. The themes Campanella advanced “acquired renewed urgency when Europe was convulsed by the French Revolution,” declares Burleigh; indeed, the regimes of the Jacobins and the Directorate constituted the first efforts to forge a modern totalitarian society, very much like the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China. Integral to the rise of the new cults of nationalism and statism was the diminution of the power of the established church. The requirement of the French Revolutionary government in 1791 that clerics in the National Assembly swear an oath of loyalty to the state was the first shot, and state and church were thereafter at war throughout Europe. Paradoxically, as Burleigh notes, many of the civic-religion ideologies, particularly socialism, drew on conventional religious notions: Social Catholicism and British socialism alike were “inextricably bound up in religious dissent.” The lure of nationalism and mass social movements cloaked in pseudo-religious rhetoric was attractive to many, and by the beginning of the 20th century, it was perfectly natural for contending nations to claim that God was on their side—and for the regular clergy to put themselves at the service of states that would soon become totalitarian, having “adopted many of the outward forms of Europe’s old religion.”

A provocative reconsideration of early modern European history.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-058093-3

Page Count: 544

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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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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