A work on religion that’s also entertaining to read—no mean feat.

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AMERICAN JESUS

HOW THE SON OF GOD BECAME A NATIONAL ICON

Wry and pungent wanderings in the footsteps of You Know Who.

Prothero (Religion/Boston Univ.) declares upfront that his search here is for the “cultural” Jesus immortalized in America’s T-shirts, bumper stickers, and religious theme parks, not the historical person whose divinity is affirmed by the tenets of Christianity’s major churches. The author devotes a lengthy chapter to Thomas Jefferson, who revered the moral teachings of a secularized Jesus despite being called “godless” by some political opponents. Abjuring open discussions of his or anyone’s religion, Jefferson literally cut the mystery away from Jesus by taking scissors and paste pot to the New Testament on two occasions while in the White House and producing two “very thin books” on what he considered the essence of those teachings—emphatically minus virgin birth, the Trinity, any and all miracles, and especially the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which Jefferson denounced in correspondence as “maniac ravings.” Calvinism all but crumbled, Prothero continues, under the mid-19th-century evangelical wave that buttonholed the nation and insisted on bringing a personal savior into every home. The evolutionary theme here is: God and churchmen take a step back as Jesus steps forward. Further proof that formal Christianity can’t rein Jesus in, the author asserts, lies in his longstanding and growing acceptance by other faiths like Hinduism (as an “avatar” of God centuries before anybody ever thought of, say, becoming a Mormon) and Buddhism, some of whose adherents will cheerfully “prove” that Jesus was in fact a Buddhist. The same churches that feminized Jesus to make him palatable to homemakers 150 years ago, Prothero asserts, now sell him to today’s consumers as your basic nice guy. Holiness, in other words, can’t hold a candle to happiness and self-esteem.

A work on religion that’s also entertaining to read—no mean feat.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-17890-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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 author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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