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A work more narrative than reflective, but Naipaul’s prose remains smooth, subtle, often silvery.

In this minor but engaging work, the Nobel Prize winner (Magic Seeds, 2004, etc.) examines the supernatural and religious beliefs he discovered in six African nations.

Beginning in 2008 in Uganda (where he was a visiting professor in 1966), the author was stunned by the burgeoning population. Throughout his African journeys, he observed the lingering effects of foreign religions—Christianity, Islam and others—and the almost universal adherence of most people, even the highly educated, to beliefs and traditions that thrum with the energy of the forest, magic, mischief and witchcraft. He repeatedly comments sorrowfully about the abuse of animals he saw everywhere—from traditional domestic pets to larger animals used in ritual sacrifices to big-game creatures that have no chance in the brave new world of GPS and high-powered rifles. In Uganda, he wondered if the lack of written history has given strength to the oral tradition, to legend and myth, and he visited a witchdoctor, which was surprisingly expensive. In Nigeria, he reflects on the writings of Scottish explorer Mungo Park, on the origins of “mumbo jumbo” and on the enduring cultural significance of soothsayers. He received permission to visit a breathtaking sacred grove. In Ghana, he learned about polytheism and heard how people dine on dogs and cats. In Ivory Coast, he saw a castle whose fetid moat was home to (imported) crocodiles and a surprisingly impressive cathedral. In Gabon he witnessed initiation rites, though he saw only what the participants permitted. He heard about wizards, witches and astral journeys, and he made a stop at the former home of Albert Schweitzer, now not so impressive. He ends in South Africa, where “race ran as deep as religion elsewhere.”

A work more narrative than reflective, but Naipaul’s prose remains smooth, subtle, often silvery.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-27073-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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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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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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