A middling contribution to Christian studies.



A new approach to an old Christian subject.

Time contributing editor Meacham (Chair, American Presidency/Vanderbilt Univ.; The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018, etc.) is best known for his political and biographical writing. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Andrew Jackson and has written biographies of George W. Bush, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. In this brief book, the author takes a detour to examine the last seven phrases Jesus spoke from the cross. Because those words have been the subject of endless writings over hundreds of years, readers may question the necessity of exploring them again. Meacham’s answer is not to explain what the words mean but rather use them as a springboard for sermons to Episcopalian audiences on Good Friday and the origins of the Christian faith. The author claims that the words cannot be taken literally because the Bible was written centuries ago, either in Greek or in Hebrew that was translated into Greek and then translated into English. All of this can be notoriously difficult to track because the languages are so different and the meanings of words change with time. Still, Meacham approaches his subject from what he calls “Christianity’s foundational belief…that Jesus was in fact the ‘Christ’—in Greek, the ‘anointed one’—who died and rose again to redeem and restore a fallen world that is to be reborn as what John the Divine called ‘a new heaven and a new earth.’ ” On Jesus’ apparently forgiving his murderers, the author asks: If Jesus’ crucifixion was foreordained by God, why should those who carried out God’s wishes be punished? Meacham's answer: Luke included those words so that any Jew or gentile hearing them could feel exculpated from responsibility in his murder. Originally written as sermons and featuring Episcopalian imagery, this book will be most appreciated by devout Episcopalians.

A middling contribution to Christian studies.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-23666-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Convergent/Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?