An insightful argument that Christian ethics, even when ignored, are the norm worldwide.



Christianity may not be on the march, but its principles continue to dominate in much of the world; this thoughtful, astute account describes how and why.

This is not a biography of Jesus or a history of the church, writes Holland (Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, 2015, etc.), an award-winning historian of the ancient world. His aim is to “study Christianity for what it can reveal, not about God, but about the affairs of humanity. No less than any other aspect of culture and society, beliefs are presumed to be of mortal origin, and shaped by the passage of time.” He accomplishes this with 21 isolated chapters (in three parts: "Antiquity," "Christendom," and "Modernitas") that proceed chronologically, beginning when the ancient world, which featured a live-and-let-live attitude toward the gods of every nation, became aware of the Jewish God, who insisted that He reigned alone. Leaping forward centuries and then decades at a time, Holland delivers penetrating, often jolting discussions on great controversies of Western civilization in which war, politics, and culture have formed a background to changes in values. Thus, Christ taught that slavery was offensive in God’s eyes. Christians accepted this idea until they became the establishment, when practicalities took priority. Radical Christians fumed and skeptics sneered, but the author points out that when abolition finally became a political force in the 18th century, it was almost entirely Christian based, and no other world religion participated. So it has been with issues from women’s rights to genocide to evolution, and Holland looks at the work of Julian the Apostate, Mohammad, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Hitler, and countless other relevant historical figures. Readers may squirm, but even a humane concept such as human rights “was far likelier to be signed up to if its origin among the canon lawyers of medieval Europe could be kept concealed.”

An insightful argument that Christian ethics, even when ignored, are the norm worldwide.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-465-09350-2

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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