Impressively vast in scope and content, Ostler’s work is most accessible to fellow specialists but should intrigue dedicated...



The effects of religion on language are well-known; what about the effects of language on religion?

It is toward this question that Ostler (The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, 2010, etc.) turns his formidable capabilities as a linguist and historian. To answer this question, the author, the chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, looks at what he deems the three great missionary religions of world history: Buddhism, Christianity, and, to a lesser extent, Islam. In the cases of Buddhism and Christianity, in encounters with new linguistic communities, the religions themselves changed in various ways to accommodate the new formats of communication. Even if core beliefs remained the same, geographic and ethnic differences would occur, spurred on by language. Islam was different in that it demanded the authority of Arabic, and so even in new linguistic communities, the Quran remained the same text; new converts were made to adopt Arabic, at least for the purposes of religion. Ostler provides an interesting discussion of Buddhism’s movement into China, demonstrating how the Chinese significantly added to the religion’s tradition and canon. He also follows the epic story of Christianity’s migration through nations speaking Greek, then Latin, then the tongues of Northern Europe, of Eastern Europe, and eventually the languages of South America and elsewhere. He notes that everywhere Christianity went, new versions of it sprang up or new linguistic traditions were added. The author concludes that, indeed, language has had deep influence on the world’s religions. However, “the languages of the ancient world have died or changed beyond recognition, but many of the revealed faiths of the Axial Age [800-200 B.C.E.] are still with us. Some languages indeed…owe most of their continued existence to the religions they serve.” The author’s brilliance is on display throughout the book, and it makes for an intriguing, if at times bewildering, read.

Impressively vast in scope and content, Ostler’s work is most accessible to fellow specialists but should intrigue dedicated readers as well.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-515-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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