An erudite investigation that rewards patient, careful reading.



Ancient Egyptian philosophy revealed in a hieroglyphic text.

Classicist and linguist Morrow (Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of the Natural World, 2004, etc.) offers a meticulous exegesis of the Pyramid Texts, a manuscript of hieroglyphics inscribed on stone walls within the Pyramid of Unis in the Saqqara Plateau. Unearthed in 1880 and 1881, the text “is the earliest surviving body of written poetry and religious philosophy in the world.” The author insists that previous translators, believing ancient Egyptians to be wholly materialistic, with no interest except for “earthly pursuits and pleasures,” have starkly “misunderstood, misrepresented, and marginalized” the inscriptions as “violent, pornographic, and stupid.” Morrow, however, bringing to bear her own exaltation of Egyptian culture, sees them as “superbly lucid” and “supremely intelligent” considerations of philosophical and religious questions: “What is life on earth, how does it relate to time and the interrelationship of all things, what is death, what survives death?” Her new translation comprises the central 90 pages of the book, framed by an introductory section analyzing the intricate composition of each hieroglyphic and a concluding section investigating the “deeper design” of Egyptian religious belief. “Hieroglyphs are simple,” the author claims. “The multiplicity unfolds in the meaning.” Steeped as she is in mythology, history, archaeology, the Egyptian landscape and natural environment, and other religious practices, such as tantric yoga, Morrow deduces poetic, multilayered meaning that is sometimes challenging to follow. She is persuasive, nevertheless, in demonstrating that hieroglyphics “are metaphors drawn from physical reality itself, tactile, observable, knowable.” The inscriptions, for example, make repeated references to astronomy, particularly the changing constellations marking the seasons. As a whole, she argues, the Pyramid Texts seek “the magical key, the pattern that lies beyond form, the invisible, eternal structure of life.”

An erudite investigation that rewards patient, careful reading.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-20010-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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