As good a comparative survey of religion as there is and a pleasure to contemplate.




Former British Museum and National Gallery director MacGregor (Germany: Memories of a Nation, 2015, etc.) takes readers on a whirlwind, though deeply satisfying, tour of the world’s religions.

The protestations of compatriots Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens aside, it is “one of the central facts of human existence,” writes MacGregor, that people everywhere have cultivated worldviews that extend beyond individual lifetimes to reach the afterlife as well as a shared sense of what it means to be human. Arguing that many of the concerns of religion are coextensive with those of politics, the author adds that the way in which we share existence with the gods has bearing on how we share the world with other humans. Belief dates back a very long way; MacGregor opens his long, richly illustrated narrative with a consideration of the “Lion Man,” an anthropomorphic carving 40,000 years old, recovered from a German cave, that “represents a cognitive leap to a world beyond nature, and beyond human experience.” It also speaks to a people who depended on interactions with animals for their living—and who would have known big cats for real. Religion, MacGregor suggests, may seem static, but it changes with the times; as an example, he writes of once-polluted holy rivers of India that may become cleaner with the legal recognition that rivers, trees, and the like have the rights of personhood (for if a corporation can, then why not a river?). This is a world-ranging book of sharp juxtapositions and surprises: MacGregor writes of a Torah binder in the same breath as he does the dreadlocks of young Vanuatuan men as well as the meeting of the worlds of the beatific Buddha, the suffering Christ, and the ancient gods: “Clothed in drapery clearly influenced by Greek and Roman models,“ he writes of one statue, “the Buddha is shown here in mid-career, a halo behind his head, already in his enlightened state.”

As good a comparative survey of religion as there is and a pleasure to contemplate.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52146-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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 timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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