An often moving defense of the need for religion in modern times.




A Soviet-born doctor reflects on a life devoted to Judaism.

Tsesis (Communist Daze, 2017) writes that his parents grew up in the Jewish faith but were compelled to hide their religious allegiance under authoritarian Soviet rule. As a result, the author observes, their commitment to their Jewish faith atrophied, and their suppressed spirituality eventually became absent. Tsesis grew up as a cultural but not actively religious Jew, for the most part, but even as a young man, he experienced a profound attraction to religion; at one point, he tells of having a dream in which he encountered the “intuitive awareness of Divine Presence.” As he experienced ferocious anti-Semitism in his life, he remained impressed by the irrepressibility of faith and the historical adaptability of the Jewish people. His memoir is more an assemblage of essays than it is a linear, comprehensive autobiography, as he not only records his life of faith, but also furnishes a rational explanation of it. According to Tsesis, only the reality of a monotheistic god could ever adequately account for the “miraculous diversity of our amazing world.” In often poetical and rousing terms, he pits his deep appreciation of the “unfathomable mystery of existence” against communistic ideology and dogmatic atheism. He even provides an anatomy of what he sees as the limitations of Darwin’s theory of evolution, accepting many of its chief principles but denying that it captures the full spectrum of human experience. Tsesis’ life is a memorably eventful one, deeply affected by the modern rise of totalitarianism. He recounts his spiritual awakening with a combination of philosophical wonder and openhanded emotion—which makes for a stirring combination. In particular, his account of living under Soviet rule is extraordinary; while he was a physician in Odessa, he says, he was asked to lead a “scientific atheism study group.” However, he occasionally indulges his own brand of dogmatism, heavy-handedly branding atheism a “false religion,” equating it with “naïve simplicity,” and accusing it of reducing life to “pointless vanity.”

An often moving defense of the need for religion in modern times. 

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-89733-732-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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