Though not for those seeking a light read, this is a seminal work on the subject, to be studied, reread, and referenced.

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BATTLING THE GODS

ATHEISM IN THE ANCIENT WORLD

Whitmarsh (Greek Culture/Univ. of Cambridge; Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism, 2013, etc.) explores the evolution of atheism from Homer to the Roman Empire.

With a nonprofessorial, relaxed style, he first explains that ancient Greece had no real religion. They had no centralized political or religious hub and no sacred texts. Their mythical, polytheistic gods were regionalized to suit geographic needs, and the myths were an expression of community through shared sacrifice and feasting. They revealed values and explained why things were as they were. The gods were not omnipotent, and the myths illustrated theomachy, wherein man confronts and tries to usurp the gods—e.g., the tale of Prometheus. The pre-Socratic philosophers pondered the nature of the world through philosophy rather than religion. Whitmarsh delves deeply into the many philosophers who felt gods were invented by humans or saw laws, in addition to religion, as merely imposition of order. The author’s erudition is impressive as he thoroughly explains the works of Plato, Diagoras, Anaxagoras, Theodorus, and Xenophon; however, less-informed readers may be overwhelmed. Whitmarsh examines the works of the dramatists, including Sophocles and Euripides, of the Hellenistic world, who introduced the idea of a king as god. The work of the Sophists, Stoics, Epicureans, and Lucian all contributed to what was still an evolving thought process. While the narrative can be exhausting, it is never dull, and the author clearly explains the idea that atheism wasn’t truly a concept until the arrival of established religion. To disbelieve in a god, you must disprove him. However, as the author writes, “this is a work of history, not of proselytism. It is not my aim to prove the truth (or indeed falsehood) of atheism as a philosophical position.”

Though not for those seeking a light read, this is a seminal work on the subject, to be studied, reread, and referenced.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-95832-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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