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Unconvincing as an all-encompassing theory of monotheism, but refreshing and moving as a plea for pluralism. (24 halftones)

An uneven but often provocative assessment of the significance of monotheism as a force in the history of religion.

Stark (Sociology and Comparative Religion/Univ. of Washington) sets himself an intimidating task, beginning with his sweeping claims that religions in advanced societies typically evolve in the direction of monotheism, and that “belief in a God of infinite scope . . . maximizes the capacity to mobilize human actions on behalf of religion.” Such grand claims, discussed in the first two chapters, can be supported only in the most general terms. Begging the question of how to differentiate between “simple societies” and “advanced civilizations,” the second chapter, which attempts to recount the origins of monotheism, is simplistic, giving any religion that might challenge its thesis—Hinduism, for example, or the polytheism of the Roman Empire—short shrift. In contrast, examinations of early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are incisive. Monotheistic religions, argues Stark, are inevitably more sectarian than more flexible polytheistic religions: “From the start,” he observes, “all of the major monotheisms have been prone to splinter into many True Religions that sometimes acknowledge one another’s right to coexist and sometimes don’t.” He is both authoritative and entertaining when reporting the squabbles among the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes, and the catalogues of heresies that Christianity produced within its first 200 years. Following a rambling, shallow discussion of the Jewish diaspora, the remarkable final chapter argues that greater sectarianism and factionalism is the strength, not the weakness, of monotheistic religions, inspiring more zeal and intellectual energy than either nonexclusive faiths or monolithic state religions: “The key to high levels of local religious commitment and of religious civility is not fewer religions, but more.”

Unconvincing as an all-encompassing theory of monotheism, but refreshing and moving as a plea for pluralism. (24 halftones)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-691-08923-X

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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