THE FIRST MESSIAH

INVESTIGATING THE SAVIOR BEFORE JESUS

A cogent, fluidly written account of a dynamic pre-Christian messsianic figure in Israel. This book explores a prophetic figure from the first century b.c., a prominent Jerusalem priest named Judah. From Judah’s writings, preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Wise (The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, not reviewed) teases out some compelling arguments about social tensions in Jerusalem a century before Christ. Amid the intense conflict among Jewish factions, Judah proclaimed himself a prophet who knew God’s mysteries, a certainty which propelled him to messiah status among his many followers. But Judah died in exile, leaving his millennial prophecies apparently unfulfilled, his followers scattered. His movement did not end there: a few years later, it exploded in growth because a war with Rome was at hand, and many turned to Judah’s prophecies to explain the crises of the age. Judah’s story is intriguing in and of itself, and even more so because it provided a paradigm for that more famous messiah figure who arose in Israel less than a century later. The book is wonderfully written for a scholarly tome, full of imagination and eloquent suspense, with compelling reconstructions of Judah’s life and especially his trial by fellow Jews for heresy and insurrection. Yet Wise’s book is strangely framed by an introduction and conclusion that focus on other “crisis cults,” or extreme millennial movements. Wise commits factual historical errors with some of these groups, claiming that the Millerites, for example, “disappeared almost overnight” after their prophecy failed in 1844. (What of the rise of Ellen Harmon White and the Adventist movement, which claimed thousands of Millerites by reinterpreting their prophecy of Christ’s return?) In short, the meat of the book is much better than the theoretical scaffolding Wise uses to structure it, and this broader investigation does little to enhance his already solid arguments about Judah and his followers.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-069645-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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

Did you like this book?

more