SAINTS AND SINNERS

Wright (In the New World, 1987, etc.) takes a poorly planned but intermittently entertaining journey through the American religious landscape. The problem here is that Wright's avowed intention is to ``search for faith,'' to understand religious belief and how it animates people's lives. Yet the six figures he profiles are patently chosen for journalistic sexiness rather than religious profundity. He offers two disgraced preachers (Walker Railey and Jimmy Swaggart), an angry atheist (Madalyn Murray O'Hair), and a Satanist who is either ``a complete fake,'' ``a tortured psychotic,'' or ``the Devil incarnate'' (Anton LaVey) before arriving at the only two subjects who might be thought to exemplify spiritual values (Catholic priest Matthew Fox and Baptist minister William Campbell). The upshot is that Wright's search never dips below the surface, reaching its New Age apotheosis in a sweat-lodge ceremony with Fox and the vague statement that ``something had touched me.'' On the other hand, the author does deliver blood-bright sketches of his motley crew, with the accent on shock (``Jimmy Swaggart stands behind her, pants down, staring at her ass. No doubt he thinks he is staring into hell itself'') rather than insight. Wright explores Swaggart's relation with his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and sees both as driven by the same demons; records O'Hair's rants against God and LaVey's rage against humanity (``I actually have more respect for vegetables than I do for people,'' says the diabolical dandy); and confronts Railey, a prominent Methodist minister suspected of strangling his wife. Campbell and Fox inspire Wright, the former by his manic social activism, the latter by his loose-knit spirituality. But these offbeat gurus offer too little, too late; many will wonder where the saints of the title can be found. Six slick profiles packed with gritty gossip; but as a religious quest, this never leaves base camp.

Pub Date: March 23, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-57924-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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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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