Wiesel proposes few definitive answers—here, the question mark appears as often as the period. But his explorations, drawing...

WISE MEN AND THEIR TALES

PORTRAITS OF BIBLICAL, TALMUDIC, AND HASIDIC MASTERS

Nobel Prize–winning novelist and memoirist Wiesel (The Judges, 2002, etc.) leads readers on a spirited, sometimes contentious journey through Jewish history and thought.

“Just as the Torah has no beginning,” writes Wiesel, “the Talmud has no end. Each succeeding generation of scholars contributes to its growth and its power.” Those scholars famously find much to argue about in the layers and layers of earlier commentary, and Wiesel reveals himself to be a wise and humane arbiter himself in pondering some of the finer points of their learned discussions, as even-handed (and sometimes tentative) as his great hero, the medieval Talmudist Rashi. Along the way, Wiesel considers some classic—and some modern—puzzles. If Abraham was such a great guy, then why did he banish Ishmael and have that terrible moment with Isaac? Why such harsh punishment for Lot’s nameless wife, turned to a pillar of salt for having ignored instructions not to look back on a scourged Sodom? (“Only because she looked where it was forbidden to look?” writes Wiesel. “So what! If our own gaze could kill us, there would not be enough room for all the cemeteries on our planet.”) Why did Aaron, to name just one ancestor, have such a rough time at the hands of a jealous God? Why is it so difficult for a Christian, say, to convert to Judaism? And, finally, “Must the ineffable remain outside the realm of words, simply because there are no words? Can Auschwitz be understood by anyone who wasn’t there?”

Wiesel proposes few definitive answers—here, the question mark appears as often as the period. But his explorations, drawing on the collective wisdom of prophets, rabbis, and scholars from the earliest days to the present, are endlessly illuminating.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-8052-4173-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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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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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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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