LOURDES

BODY AND SPIRIT IN THE SECULAR AGE

An exhaustive history of the most famous shrine in the Catholic world, carefully researched and skillfully narrated by Oxford historian Harris (Murders and Madness, not reviewed), who sees Lourdes as a stumbling block to 19th-century positivism. One of the most remarkable aspects of Lourdes is the fascination it has always exerted over nonbelievers who cannot accept the tenets of Catholicism but are nevertheless unable to dismiss the evidence of supernatural intervention the shrine presents. Here Harris follows in the tradition of the Viennese Jew Franz Werfel, whose Song of Bernadette made the shrine known throughout the world. But Harris writes from the perspective of historian rather than novelist, and her concern is to show that modern historiography, which has tended to view the development of Lourdes as a rear-guard attack upon the secularization of France, is misguided. In the first place, as she points out, the Catholic hierarchy of the time was most reluctant to lend credence to the veracity of Bernadette’s apparitions and found itself at nearly as great a loss as the secular authorities in dealing with the overwhelming popular response to the visions and the earliest cures. Moreover, the Church’s establishment of a Medical Board at the shrine to evaluate claims of miraculous healing was itself a major concession to the authority of secular science, rather than a rejection of it. Harris ultimately concludes that the growth of the cult of Lourdes was too immediate and far-reaching to have been the result of political or clerical orchestration and can only be explained as the sudden outlet of social aspirations that could not find release in either the Church or the bourgeois republic that was then being formed out of the Revolution’s legacy. An interesting revisionist interpretation that, unfortunately, promises more than it delivers: Harris does an excellent job of knocking down the assumptions of the 19th-century positivists but doesn—t build much in their stead. (70 b&w illus.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-670-87905-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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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