Gura’s nuanced, dense and illuminating narrative makes a perfect a companion to Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club (2001),...

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AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISM

A HISTORY

Comprehensive history of America’s first public intellectual movement.

Gura (American and Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical, 2005, etc.) notes that transcendentalism has largely been viewed as a brief phase in the history of ideas in the United States, almost exclusively associated with the poetic essays of Emerson and Thoreau. This tightly written survey of intellectual currents in early-19th-century New England may change that view. Gura reminds us just how influential the movement was and argues that its core ideals remain with us today. The roots of transcendentalism lie in a thorny and seething theological debate among Unitarians. How can the belief in an ordered universe require miracles to sanctify the divinity of Christ? It’s a question with no clear rational answer. That’s why transcendentalists, fueled by the German Idealist philosophy of Kant and the Romantic poetry of Coleridge, argued against objective understanding of the scriptures and for the emotional experience of faith. This notion of godliness inherent in human consciousness combined with the democratic zeal of the young republic to fuel a regional, then national feeling that it was possible to better the world. The loosely tethered transcendentalists finally divided over the question of precisely how to make things better. In one direction went George Ripley, Orestes Brownson and Theodore Parker, who aimed for social justice, while Emerson and his disciples stressed self-reliance and rugged individualism. Differences were set aside during the Civil War to battle slavery. Afterward, exhausted and eager to embrace a future quickly being shaped by the Gilded Age, transcendentalists became totally in thrall to Emersonian ideals of political libertarianism.

Gura’s nuanced, dense and illuminating narrative makes a perfect a companion to Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club (2001), as each considers the two dominant and ever-conflicting themes in American intellectual history: idealism and pragmatism.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3477-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2007

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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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