A stern warning that those who push for the intrusion of religion into public life do so at the peril of both.

SOLEMN REVERENCE

THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE IN AMERICAN LIFE

A slender but thoroughly argued case for reinforcing the wall between church and state.

Balmer, a historian of evangelicalism in America and professor of religion at Dartmouth, is firmly on the side of a truly secular public sphere, trusting in the wisdom and logic of the “establishment clause,” the portion of the First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of an official or officially endorsed religion. There are good reasons for that clause, including the fact that the Puritanism and Quakerism of the Northern states were much different from the Anglicanism and breakaway Protestantism of the Southern ones. Rather than allow the state to impose a religious preference on its population, writes the author, the models to follow are those of Roger Williams, William Penn, and Thomas Jefferson, the last of whom protested that to tax a citizen in order to support an established church “is sinful and tyrannical.” Fast-forward to the rise of the religious right, which “mobilized not, as commonly supposed, to battle abortion, but rather to defend racial segregation in evangelical institutions such as Bob Jones University.” As an instrument of emergent White nationalism, the religious right has been well served by the current administration and Supreme Court, which, in a 2020 decision, allowed people like the current secretary of education to feast on funds diverted from public coffers and given to private religious schools. The “religious liberty” that the religious right seeks is less about the diversion of funds and more about the imposition of discriminatory measures against putative enemies and the suppression of the rights of minorities. The irony in all of this, notes the author, is that evangelical churches in particular have flourished in this country precisely because not oppressed by an official religion: “This has lent an energy and dynamism to religious life in America, a vitality unmatched anywhere in the world.”

A stern warning that those who push for the intrusion of religion into public life do so at the peril of both.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-58642-271-4

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A lively and thoughtful memoir that, one hopes, will inspire readers to pursue activism in every realm of society.

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PERSIST

The Massachusetts senator and financial reformer recounts several of her good fights over the years.

Famous for being chided for “persisting” on the Senate floor, Warren is nearly a byword for the application of an unbending, if usually polite, feminism to the corridors of power. Though she has a schoolmarm-ish air—and indeed taught school for much of her life—she gladly owns up to liking a beer or two and enjoying a good brawl, and she’s a scrapper with a long memory. In 2008, when she shopped a proposal to found a federal agency that “could act as a watchdog to make sure that consumers weren’t getting cheated by financial institutions,” she encountered a congressman who “laughed in my face.” She doesn’t reveal his name, but you can bet he crosses the hall when she’s coming the other way. Warren does name other names, especially Donald Trump, who, with Republicans on the Hill, accomplished only one thing, namely “a $2 trillion tax cut that mostly benefited rich people.” Now that the Democrats are in power, the author reckons that the time is ripe to shake off the Trump debacle and build “a nation that works, not just for the rich and powerful but for everyone.” She identifies numerous areas that need immediate attention, from financial reform to bringing more women into the workplace and mandating equal pay for equal work. Warren premises some of these changes on increased taxes on the rich, happily citing a billionaire well known for insider trading, who complained of her, “This is the fucking American dream she is shitting on.” The author reverts to form: “Oh dear. Did I hit a nerve?” Warren’s common-sensical proposals on housing, infrastructure development, and civil rights merit attention, and her book makes for a sometimes-funny, sometimes–sharp-tongued pleasure.

A lively and thoughtful memoir that, one hopes, will inspire readers to pursue activism in every realm of society.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-79924-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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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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