The Unfinished Tower of Babel


Orderly examination of empire, religion and the will of God.
Sociologist Bonn (Painting Life: The Art of Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, 2007) uses the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel as a jumping-off point for exploring the history of empire. Bonn works under the presumption that Babel is a myth, meant to characterize the rise and fall not of a tower but of the Babylonian Empire. Still, he sees in the story an elegant archetype for examining all empires. Further, Bonn points to the history of Christianity (as a faith tradition, not as an organized religion) as pointing the way toward a reversal of the Babel story. Drawing upon a breadth of knowledge, the author also sees history from a unique, overarching perspective. He begins with a brief, yet thorough, overview of ancient history, especially the histories of Babylon and Israel, which flows into a history of the Roman Empire and the advent of Christianity. Through the Christian faith, Bonn says, God and his followers began the process of reversing the effects of the Tower of Babel—the disbursement of peoples began to contract, as followers of Christ found a single reason to come back together. In examples such as the Day of Pentecost, this included a shared language as well. “It was in spreading the message of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire,” the author says, “that the early Christians came to reverse the logic of the myth of the Tower of Babel.” However, following history further, Bonn explains that the established church in Rome began to pervert the faith into yet another empire. As with all empires, as it gained in size and stature, God caused its downfall. Thus, Bonn explains, even the established church itself was broken apart by the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. Bonn goes on to apply his theory to the modern world, explaining that it is not functional success (personified now by great towers—skyscrapers) which is problematic, but instead pride, avarice and wanton power. A sizable portion of Bonn’s work is concerned with explaining world history, often with facts and figures that, while they could provide background for a novice, largely do not affect his arguments. He follows his thesis through from the dawn of Western history to modern times, but his already slim volume could be pared down further without threatening his ideas.

Imaginative, inventive and erudite.

Pub Date: May 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0989976008

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Sistina Street Press

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2014

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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