An ambitious but disjointed exploration of social justice in the Catholic Church. How did the Roman Catholic Church, which before the French Revolution was one of the world’s most conservative (and landed) institutions, become the 20th century’s most vocal advocate for the poor? This is the opening question of Bokenkotter’s new book (he’s the author of Essential Catholicism, 1985, etc.). His approach differs slightly from more traditional examinations of Catholicism’s social transformations; he narrows his lens to individual activists who have pushed the Church to this relatively new stance for human rights. The book adopts a roughly chronological approach, profiling more than a dozen Catholic activists, such as Italy’s Don Sturzo, an outspoken opponent of Mussolini; Michael Collins and the Irish quest for independence; and America’s own Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement. At its best, this multibiography format is so broadly based that it offers a rudimentary introduction to the history of modern Western civilization. At its worst, the collection suffers from chaos, with biographical tidbits referring only tangentially to Catholicism and even less to other chapters. Bokenkotter’s biographical sketches are impressively researched in secondary sources but neglect primary investigations into these thinkers’ complex intellectual development. Then, too, the book ends abruptly with Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement for Polish workers. There is no conclusion to tie the tome’s many disparate threads together, no effort to analyze some of its lingering questions: what intellectual and religious commitments link these very different activists to one another? In what directions might the Church have headed without them? Would Vatican II, for example, have ever occurred? Why is violence embraced by some justice activists and eschewed by others, like Day? This is valuable for its short biographical sketches, but its disunity leaves the reader wishing for more intellectual meat. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-48754-1

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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