Forceful, challenging, and at times sublimely ridiculous.

THE PROPHETS

WHO THEY WERE, WHAT THEY ARE

Influential critic (editor of Commentary for 30 years), neoconservative figurehead, and one-time Hebrew scholar revisits the “poetry” of the biblical prophets.

In addressing nonbelievers as well as Christians and Jews, Podhoretz (My Love Affair with America, 2000, etc.) chooses to quote primarily from the King James Version (1611) of the Old Testament because of its approximation of both the meter and meaning of the Hebrew Bible, itself an original amalgam of Semitic and Greek texts. “I am not a very good Jew,” the author acknowledges, “as measured by the very limited extent to which I observe the Commandments of Judaism; nor do I think that the world was created about 6,000 years ago in only six days.” Nonetheless, he finds the growing body of scientific evidence that undermines the Bible’s historicity an irksome impediment to be brushed aside, hoping almost wistfully that future discoveries might reverse this erosion. His passion and reverence, however, for the actual (in his view) personages and prophetic literature that inhabit the roughly half-millennium accounted for in the first five books (The Pentateuch) of the Bible are undiminished. His interpretations and commentaries, replete with references to the significant minutiae of recent scholarship, rabbinical doctrines, and linguistic subtleties, comprise an extraordinary intellectual exercise. For example: in Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac at God’s command, Podhoretz finds not merely a test of faith but the “first shot fired” against idolatry. This refrain builds to a crescendo as the political Podhoretz finally elbows the literati offstage and delivers a polemic on creeping anomy in American culture that—and he means it—invites God’s judgment against us. America’s idolatry is worship of the self, the author concludes, condemning liberal utopianism, feminism (for—by implication—contributing to higher teen suicide rates), and even the environmental movement (for repudiating God’s placement, in Genesis, of man above the animals).

Forceful, challenging, and at times sublimely ridiculous.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1927-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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