Skees weaves together a popular history of Shakerism with an account of her month-long visit to Sabbathday Lake in Maine, the last living community of Shaker sisters and brethren. Skees, a journalist who writes on women’s spirituality, studied comparative religion at Harvard Divinity School—a kindly, open-minded institution whose intersecting currents of academic study, pastoral training, and spiritual probing amply prepared the author for her work. The chapters are structured around themes central to Shaker life—including celibacy, God, communion with spirits, relation with the outside world, prospects for survival—and based on both research in the community’s library and conversations with its eight permanent residents. Skees contrasts the intensities of Shakers past with the wise mellowness of Sabbathday’s current members. There are instructive sections on Shaker dance, music, and ritual observance. Perhaps from a wish for heightened contrast, Skees presents herself, a married woman with three sons, as too grounded in worldliness and sex (“I loved men with abandon”) ever to take up the Shaker path. But the authorial persona, which tends toward exaggeration and sentimentality, intrudes on the discussion. “Lusty phalluses and looming egos” do not, pace Ms. Skees, define men of the world. Card cataloging, a task that the librarian, Sister June, performs, is not an “ancient process.” And people today do not use words like “verily” and “elsetimes,” as the author quaintly insists on doing occasionally in her own speech. Skees’s surprise over the outward ordinariness of deeply religious people, and over the loss of self that sometimes occurs there, seems disingenuous—what else, after all, had she been learning at Harvard Divinity School? The Shaker voices communicate over the author’s annoying obtrusiveness so that despite herself her work fills a gap in the growing genre of reportage on the inner life of modern religious communities.

Pub Date: March 20, 1998

ISBN: 0-7868-6237-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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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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