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A no-nonsense, defensive account of Christianity’s rise in the West.

There is much to correct in the historical record, as sociologist Stark (Institute for Studies of Religion/Baylor Univ.; God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, 2009, etc.) makes plain here, repositioning the central role of Christianity in Western development. Once it started to spread among the privileged urban classes and, especially, women, Christianity promised a better life in a typically brutish time. Its appeals to mercy and alleviating misery fell on welcome ears amid squalid ancient cities of the Roman Empire. Early Christians elevated the role of women, denounced infanticide and raised the marriageable age. Early persecution only strengthened Christian intransigence, while the “performance” of martyrs proved utterly convincing in the conversion process. With the conquest of Islam, Stark shows how Christianity was mercilessly decimated in the East, forcing the faithful to seek safe harbor in European lands. In the chapter titled “Europe Responds: The Case for the Crusades,” the author debunks previous assertions by Karen Armstrong and other historians that the Crusades were essentially colonizing and exploitative; rather, he writes, they were “fundamentally defensive” in protecting Christian pilgrims and shrines from Muslim attack. Moreover, the Medieval era categorized erroneously by the Enlightenment writers as the “Dark Ages” was a rich, inventive period that spurred capitalism (profits, property rights, modern banking, etc.) and science. It was the Christian Scholastics educated in urban universities and steeped in the Christian theology of logic and reason who invented science long before Copernicus and Galileo. Stark credits European belief in “God as the Intelligent Designer” as their scientific mentor. The author provides a refreshing, unorthodox polishing of Martin Luther and the Spanish Inquisition, while crediting the survival and growth of Christianity to the rich pluralism of America. Take that, warriors of secularism.  


Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-200768-1

Page Count: 544

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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