An erudite guide to the biblical world.


Revelations from the Old Testament.

“The Bible has no rivals when it comes to the art of omission, of not saying what everyone would like to know,” observes Calasso (1941-2021), the acclaimed Italian publisher, translator, and explorer of myth, gods, and sacred ritual. In this probing inquiry into biblical mysteries, the author meditates on the complexities and contradictions of key events and figures. He examines the “enigmatic nature” of original sin in Genesis, an anomaly occurring in no other creation myth; God’s mandate of circumcision for all Jewish men; and theomorphism in the form of Adam: a man created in the image of the god who made him. Among the individuals Calasso attends to in an abundantly populated volume are Saul, the first king of Israel; the handsome shepherd David, his successor; David’s son Solomon, whose relatively peaceful reign allowed him “to look at the world and study it”; Moses, steeped in “law and vengeance,” who incited the slaughter of firstborn sons; and powerful women, including the Queen of Sheba (“very beautiful and probably a witch”), Jezebel, and the “prophetess” Miriam, Moses’ sister. Raging throughout is Yahweh, a vengeful God who demands unquestioned obedience to his commandments. “Yahweh was a god who wanted to defeat other gods,” Calasso writes. “I am a jealous God,” Yahweh proclaims, “who punishes the children for the sins of their fathers, as far as the third and fourth generations.” Conflicts seemed endless: During the reigns of Saul and David, “war was constant, war without and war within.” Terse exchanges between David and Yahweh were, above all, “military decisions.” David’s 40-year reign was “harrowing and glorious,” marked by recurring battles with the Philistines. Calasso makes palpable schisms and rivalries, persecutions and retributions, holocausts and sacrifices as tribal groups battled one another to form “a single entity”—the people of Israel.

An erudite guide to the biblical world.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60189-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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 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...


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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