A thoughtful if unfortunately truncated analysis of modern terrorism.

Idolatry, Leadership, and Terrorism

Debut author Williams confronts the violent emergence of terrorism by appraising its root causes in modernity itself.

Williams’ shorthand for the problem is an idea borrowed from biblical thought: idolatry. In its original manifestation, idolatry means the willful turning away from rational thought in favor of some false object of worship. The modern version of idolatry, Williams argues, involves an obsession with inferior substitutes for moral purpose, like sex, money, and, ultimately, obeisance to illegitimate authority. This submission to false authority, the author believes, has extraordinary repercussions deeply corrosive of modern life. First, it undercuts the possibility of meaningful public discourse, narrowing the acceptable topics of discussion as well as the parameters within which they can be discussed. This leads to a broadly felt crisis in democracy itself because central political institutions cease to be adequately representative. As more and more people become disillusioned with the political process available to them, the possibility of bellicose reactions to it, like terrorism, becomes increasingly likely. The author considers specific sources of terrorism, including debilitating debt, polarizing media, the proliferation of weapons, and the prevalence of sectarian conflict fueled by “doctrinal supremacy.” Williams impressively studies the ways our current global challenges are the products of a modern ethos historically unfurling for some time now. And while he acknowledges the contributions Islamic fundamentalism has made to worldwide terrorism, he also explains that a more thoughtful interpretation of Islamic religion permits healthy debate and intellectual tolerance. In fact, he contends that an imperious Western colonialism helped push the Muslim world into its currently defensive posture. A quick 33 pages, this is more essay than full-length book, and the brevity of Williams’ treatment stymies his considerable ambitions. It’s simply not possible to do justice to this topic, and all the other issues he raises as its corollaries, in so few words. However, he provocatively and helpfully encourages the reader to look beyond our historical moment to find deeper causes for the stubborn problems that confront us today.

A thoughtful if unfortunately truncated analysis of modern terrorism.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5172-2641-1

Page Count: 54

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 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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