A useful reference for students and diehard fans of church history, but includes more than general readers will want to know.



The history of a 2,000-year-old office whose holders have shaped world history, from St. Peter to Benedict XVI.

Roman Catholic tradition identifies popes as the successors to Peter, who supposedly was—or at least helped appoint—the first bishop of Rome. Yet in fact Christianity had no bishops until well after Peter’s death, notes Collins (Research Fellow/Univ. of Edinburgh; Visigothic Spain, 2004, etc.). This kind of mythologizing has carried the papacy through numerous near-death experiences. Secular protectors, extraordinary pontiffs and luck (or providence, depending on your take) have also played a part in helping popes expand their spiritual authority even as their temporal powers shriveled. The narrative covers such epic events as the schism between Rome and Eastern Christianity, the Crusades, church councils and the Protestant Reformation. But it does not neglect peculiarities like the Cadaver Synod, in which a medieval pope’s enemies exhumed his corpse, arrayed it in robes before an ecclesiastical court and convicted the moldering remains of perjury and breaking canon law. Collins sprints through the centuries, but his detail-saturated prose makes the book seem long. Grand themes bob in a sea of names and dates, with even insignificant popes and other bit players rating fleeting mentions. The author’s conclusions on major, controversial figures are invariably balanced. He judges as “far from proven” the case against Pius XII, whose failure to condemn the Nazis’ treatment of Jews led historian John Cornwell to dub him Hitler’s Pope (1999). Collins does acknowledge that Pius “was at the very least constrained by the habitual caution that made him a good Vatican diplomat rather than a natural leader of men in time of crisis.” John Paul II gets kudos for charisma and combating communism, but criticism for opposing artificial contraception to halt AIDS and inertia in the face of sex abuse by priests.

A useful reference for students and diehard fans of church history, but includes more than general readers will want to know.

Pub Date: March 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-465-01195-7

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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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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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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