MARTIN LUTHER

THE CHRISTIAN BETWEEN GOD AND DEATH

The darkest biography yet of the irascible Luther, by Harvard professor emeritus and novelist Marius (Thomas More: A Biography, 1984, etc.). Marius claims that Luther’s profound fear of death drove him to the extremes of the Reformation—extremes that, in Marius’s view, were largely unnecessary to achieve lasting change. Marius may have overstepped the biographer’s boundaries by concluding that history without Luther would have been far much more peaceful: “for more than a century after Luther’s death, Europe was strewn with the slaughtered corpses of people who would have lived normal lives if Luther had never lived at all.” Marius places the blame for much of modern ontological uncertainty squarely on the monk’s shoulders, and also saddles him with responsibility for desacralizing communion, contributing to the decline of biblical authority, and plunging Europe into religious intolerance. These charges may be harsh, but Marius does show where Luther’s writings degenerated into virulent anti-Semitism (a topic universally glossed over by previous biographers) and superstition. Marius also surpasses other biographers in tortuously documenting the reformer’s dark side; here we see Luther as an unstable individual whose depths of despair were truly frightening. Yet Marius’s book tends too far in this direction and almost completely ignores the joy that also, paradoxically, suffused Luther’s copious writing and his personal life. Marius chooses to end Luther’s story in 1527, almost two full decades before his death, saying that the later Luther is “not as interesting” as the man who sparked the Reformation. But by neglecting the last two decades of Luther’s life Marius also ignores his transformation into a family man and, at times, a mellower creature. Marius’s book should be read in tandem with Heiko Oberman’s similarly titled Luther: Man Between God and the Devil for a more balanced portrait. Valuable for its depiction of Luther’s mad wrestling with doubt and despair, but too one-sided to capture the contradictions in its complex subject. (16 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-674-55090-0

Page Count: 532

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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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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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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