Of a piece with Paul Johnson’s Modern Times and other conservative-tending intellectual histories.

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SACRED CAUSES

THE CLASH OF RELIGION AND POLITICS, FROM THE GREAT WAR TO THE WAR ON TERROR

Mix monotheisms and mammon, and you have an unholy mess—and the present age.

So the reader might conclude after touring British historian Burleigh’s continuation of the project begun in Earthly Powers (2006): to “write a coherent history of modern Europe primarily organized around issues of mind and spirit rather than the merely material.” World War I brought psychic trauma that saw Europe and America reviving the deity while at the same time religion was losing its force; afterward, in an era of revolution and totalitarianism, many churches became partnered with the authoritarian state, driving liberals and libertarians further away. The less tolerant states made secular religions of themselves; thus Burleigh entertains the notion that a future archaeologist might one day conclude that early-20th-century Europe “witnessed a regression to the age of megaliths and funerary barrows before it succumbed to a more general primitive fury.” Atheists became members of the sanctified Bolshevik church, Lutheran pastors became priests of Nazism, Catholic leaders became complicit in crimes against humanity, even as the totalitarian regimes set about on a thorough program of “de-Christianization and massacres”; the first half of the century was a strange time indeed. The second half saw further strange bedfellowing, as with the rise of the European Christian Democratic parties, “whose sole raison d’être was to occupy and hang on to power at any price.” Burleigh casts a cold eye on all these regrettable goings-on, heating up when he arrives at the 1960s, whereon he fulminates about the general going to hell of Western civilization as “chippy girls like Cilla Black, Lulu, and Twiggy set forth on their forty years of stardom.” The turn in mood seems fitting, though, for Burleigh closes with an unhappy consideration of the current clash of civilizations and what he suggests is an official European habit of conceding whenever tasked by aggrieved religious minorities.

Of a piece with Paul Johnson’s Modern Times and other conservative-tending intellectual histories.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-058095-X

Page Count: 576

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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