Jacoby draws the first detailed maps of a terrain that has been very much in need of intelligent, careful cartography.

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STRANGE GODS

A SECULAR HISTORY OF CONVERSION

In a work blending culture, religion, history, biography, and a bit of memoir (with more than a soupcon of attitude), the author of The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2013, etc.) returns with a revealing historical analysis of religious conversions.

Jacoby’s introduction uses the prism of her own family history of conversions to cast color on the topics she will cover. Then she begins her chronological pursuit of her story with Augustine, a pursuit that ends with the Islamic State and the enduring attempts to coerce conversions. Throughout, the author writes candidly about her own atheism and allows herself at times to snap at ferociously religious people; near the end, she mentions the “goofy religious myths” that allow groups of people to feel superior to others. In some sections, Jacoby uses key individuals to introduce and/or illuminate a topic or historical period. There are chapters on John Donne, Margaret Fell, Heinrich Heine, and—perhaps a surprise for some readers—Muhammad Ali, whose conversion to Islam was “inseparable from the contemporary social upheaval.” Jacoby argues that conversion is a far more complex issue than other writers have acknowledged. She spends lots of time on coercive conversions—from the early Roman Catholic Church to modern radical Islam—but she also shows how other factors cause conversions, including intermarriage and personal security. She celebrates the United States, which, from its beginning, refused to endorse a state religion—the founders had seen the consequences of this in the bloody European religious wars—noting that our vast geographical space also allowed various religious groups to establish their own communities and havens. The author, whose political and religious views will no doubt alienate some readers (not to mention her slashing comment about adult fans of Harry Potter!), impressively combines thorough research and passionate writing.

Jacoby draws the first detailed maps of a terrain that has been very much in need of intelligent, careful cartography.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-375-42375-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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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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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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