Nonetheless, The Oracle is an eye-opening account that will fascinate fans of both ancient history and modern science.



Thoughtfully blending geology, archaeology and ancient history, New York Times staffer Broad (The Universe Below, 1997, etc.) shows scientists unraveling one of antiquity’s mysteries.

In ancient Greece, a visit to the Oracle of Delphi was de rigueur before any major decision of state. A cult of mystics passed down the title of Oracle from woman to woman, each serving as the mouthpiece of Apollo, god of prophecy. Plutarch, Socrates and Plato were among the Greeks who viewed the Oracle as an invaluable weapon against foes; they credited her, for example, with their stunning victory over the invading Persians in 480 b.c. The slopes of Delphi’s Mount Parnassus, on which the Oracle conducted monthly audiences from her temple’s inner sanctum, bore a steady stream of petitioners looking for advice on everything from the choice of a bride to political strategy. Scientists had long puzzled over the trances that reportedly enveloped the Oracle as she sat on her tripod, surrounded by high priests who relayed her messages. Some credited the trance to vapors that emanated from beneath the temple, but a 1950 French scientific study debunked that theory. In 1996, however, geologist Jelle de Boer and archaeologist John R. Hale decided to re-open the investigation. They eventually discovered that the Oracles were indeed exposed to ethylene, an intoxicating but harmless gas that rose through underground fissures beneath the Temple of Delphi. Broad follows the story with care and diligence, melding complex science and ancient history into a riveting account bolstered by a helpful glossary and chronology. He falters only when trying to bridge the gap between science and spiritualism; his attempt to somehow translate the scientific findings into a proof of the Oracle’s mystical powers seems forced and weak.

Nonetheless, The Oracle is an eye-opening account that will fascinate fans of both ancient history and modern science.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2006

ISBN: 1-59420-081-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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 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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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