An engaging look at the historical conditions surrounding America’s secular, on-field religions.

PASSION PLAYS

HOW RELIGION SHAPED SPORTS IN NORTH AMERICA

A brief but insightful cultural history of American sports that links religious elements to the rise of organized games.

Balmer, the chair of religion at Dartmouth, argues that the four major American team sports—baseball, football, basketball, and hockey—link to social and cultural movements in play at the time of their foundings. There were industrialism, imperialism, entrenched (and anti-immigrant) nationalism. There were also technological developments such as the railroad and the telegraph, which “made both intercollegiate and professional leagues possible, allowing the travel of teams from one community to another and news about the contests to filter back to hometowns.” An imported British movement called “Muscular Christianity” also held, in essence, that a weak Christian soldier wasn’t going to win the war against evil for God. Balmer’s case studies are interesting and well documented. Though football was the product of Protestant schools after the Civil War—one that had the martial impulses of warriors on the battlefield—it was quickly adopted by Catholic schools such as Notre Dame, helping reduce some of the distance between the two strains of faith. It’s interesting to note, too, that James Naismith, hailed by one coach as an “inventor of basket-ball, medical doctor, Presbyterian minister, tee-totaler, all-around athlete, non-smoker, and owner of vocabulary without cuss words,” was both a college chaplain and a coach. Balmer discerns a fascinating link between hockey’s penalty box and the Catholic Church’s confessional booth, where a sinner can “acknowledge and atone for his transgression.” He doesn’t always effectively forge links between religion as such and sport, but he provides plenty of useful insights on the role of zeitgeist, as when he aligns football in the South to the desperate need to reestablish a sense of manhood following the defeat of the Confederacy. He also contrasts North America’s growing urbanism to the implied pastoralism of baseball and its contemporaneous vision of a “Garden of Eden, a lost, halcyon paradise.”

An engaging look at the historical conditions surrounding America’s secular, on-field religions.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-4696-7006-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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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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A somber, sage book about art-making that deserves a readership beyond Cave’s fan base.

FAITH, HOPE AND CARNAGE

The Australian alt-rock icon talks at length about the relationship between faith, death, and art.

Like many touring musicians stalled during the pandemic, Cave pursued an autobiographical book project while in quarantine. But rather than write a standard memoir, he instead consented to a book of extensive interviews with U.K. arts journalist O’Hagan, photography critic for the Guardian and a feature writer for the Observer. Cave chose this approach in order to avoid standard rock-star patter and to address grittier, more essential matters. On that front, he has plenty of material to work with. Much of the book focuses on his 15-year-old son Arthur, who died from an accidental fall off a cliff in 2015. The loss fueled Cave’s 2019 album, Ghosteen, but Cave sees the connection between life and art as indirect, involving improvisation, uncertainty, and no small amount of thinking about religion. “The loss of my son is a condition; not a theme,” he tells O’Hagan. Loss is a constant in these conversations—during the period when they were recorded, Cave’s mother also died, as did his former band mate Anita Lane. Yet despite that, this is a lively, engrossing book energized by Cave’s relentless candor—and sometimes counterintuitive thinking—about his work and his demons. His well-documented past heroin addiction, he says, “fed into my need for a conservative and well-ordered life.” Grief, he suggests, is surprisingly clarifying: “We become different. We become better.” Throughout, he talks about the challenges and joys of songwriting and improvisation (mostly around Carnage, the 2021 album he recorded with band mate Warren Ellis during this period) and about the comfort he gets answering questions from fans and strangers on his website. O’Hagan knows Cave’s work well, but he avoids fussy discographical queries and instead pushes Cave toward philosophical elaborations, which he’s generally game for.

A somber, sage book about art-making that deserves a readership beyond Cave’s fan base.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60737-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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