Deep and historically scrupulous, this book is an important contribution to the study of comparative religion.

READ REVIEW

MAGIC AND RELIGION IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD

THE BEGINNINGS OF JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY

A scholarly account explores the development of Judaism and Christianity in response to a pagan world as well as the emergent distinction between religion and superstition. 

The historical arc of Christianity—from a persecuted sect of radicals to the official faith of Rome—raises serious questions about what precisely distinguishes true religions from false ones, myth from reality, and a dominant spiritual metaphysic from the superstitious practice of magic. Soltes (Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 2008) attempts to answer these questions by looking at the ways in which Christianity and Judaism evolved out of a “Hebrew-Israelite-Judaean tradition” of which they both claimed to be the proper heirs. Their dual development was at least partially borne out of their confrontation with pagan competitors not only for disciples, but also for political legitimacy from the Roman authorities. The author provides a captivating and philosophically searching analysis that shows that a rigorous theoretical distinction between religion and magic—the feature all regnant religions refer to when trumpeting their superiority—is impossible to draw. In the absence of such demonstrable traits, triumph becomes a function of political power, of who gets to make pronouncements “addressing the divine aspect” of the sacred. Soltes furnishes a wide-ranging history—the display of erudition is breathtaking—that considers not only the nature of religion itself, but also the unfolding of the term “magic” as a mark of illegitimacy and part of a terminology strategy to discredit the spiritual other. The author brilliantly discusses the best of Judeo-Christianity’s “serious competition,” including traditions like Roman Mithraism, which likely influenced the nature of Christianity just as it was surpassed by it. Soltes also assesses the gradual movement toward monotheism and the central role of demonology in Christianity—part of the religion’s particular success stemmed from its articulation of a compelling adversary. Further, the author is careful to avoid overconfidently compartmentalizing historical causes—he candidly discusses the way in which a common theological amalgamation makes neat distinctions nearly impossible. 

Deep and historically scrupulous, this book is an important contribution to the study of comparative religion. 

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5465-0315-6

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Academia-West Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more