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Biblical historiography, with an edge, by an Oxford don whose sword is too unwieldy for his prey. Fox (Pagans and Christians, 1986; The Search for Alexander, 1980) has a long tradition behind him: Classical historians from Gibbon onward have viewed the Christian overshadowing of Rome and Athens with nostalgic regret. Fox, though, carries his distress into an examination of the Torah as well, as he provides us with a very close reading of the Old and New Testaments, taking Pilate's taunt (``What is truth?'') as his point of origin. As a historian, Fox finds much amiss. Genesis gives two, contradictory, versions of the creation of Man, he says; the infancy narratives of St. Luke are patently false (Augustus never issued any decree ``that all the world should be taxed''); and the Epistles are padded with ``aggressive forgeries,'' clumsily interpolated centuries after the original compositions. ``If scripture is not the unerring word,'' Fox asks, ``what is it?'' That is an unfortunate query, because it moves the scope of Fox's work beyond history (where he is quite at ease) into literature (where his competence seems less sure). The questions of inspiration, metaphor, personification, and allegory are forgotten as Fox goes careening through the text in search of errors like a lawyer taking issue with Portia's jurisprudence in The Merchant of Venice. In the end, Fox can provide no answer himself, a curious stance that puts him in the same company as the most rock-ribbed fundamentalist of the American heartland. This is both frustrating and unfortunate, as Fox writes extremely well and his scholarship, per se, seems sound and clearly argued. A wealth of information, much of it fascinating, put forward for reasons that are less than obvious. A decent source book, then, but a total failure as an argument.

Pub Date: April 27, 1992

ISBN: 0-394-57398-6

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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