A hefty yet lucid contribution to the history of early Christianity.

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THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE

WEALTH, THE FALL OF ROME, AND THE MAKING OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE WEST, 350-550 AD

Render unto Caesar, quoth the New Testament—even when Caesar is the church that Peter built.

Brown (Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, 2002, etc.) may be an emeritus professor of history at Princeton, but his research is resolutely up-to-date. So, too, is his language, as when he writes of a particular trope of the late Roman historian Ammianus, “this was no nostalgia trip on his part,” and when he describes the imposition of the rule of celibacy on the priesthood as “consumer driven.” That last makes particular sense in the context of this sizable book, in which Brown examines the long conflict between Christ-like immiseration and episcopal opulence, a conflict that has its roots in the economic history of the late Roman Empire. In that time, writes the author, there was an uneasy concord between the ruling nobility and the peasantry during a time when barbarian invasions and civil war were the new normal. When the empire dissolved, one way for a wealthy Christian to feel holy was to renounce wealth entirely in the way of the monks; another was to give all his money to the rising church, in which the monks took the place of all the poor outside the walls of the cloister. “Gifts to the city gained fame in this world and this world only,” writes Brown. “By contrast, gifts within the churches were thought to join this world to a boundless world beyond the stars.” Brown charts the growth of the church’s “financial muscle,” venturing intriguing asides as he proceeds on such matters as pagan vestiges within the beliefs of the church and lay society alike—the supernatural connection, for instance, of wealth to the turning of the seasons—and the fact that the ranks of the early Christian church were filled not by the meek and the poor, but instead by “moderately well-to-do townfolk.”

A hefty yet lucid contribution to the history of early Christianity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-691-15290-5

Page Count: 806

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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 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

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