Thoroughly inclusive and fascinating, both scholarly and accessible.



A sweeping account of the evolution of world religion.

Providing a “minimalist definition” of religion as “belief in some kind of transcendental world (that may or may not coincide with our observable physical world) inhabited by spirit beings or forces (that may or may not take an interest in and influence the physical world in which we live),” noted anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Dunbar explores the full array of religious expression across the globe and throughout history and prehistory. Noting that religion is a universal fact of human culture, Dunbar divides the book into chapters dedicated to broad concepts of religious manifestation in civilization. Among others, the topics include the benefits of religion to people and societies, ranging from its role as a tool for cooperation to its use in community building; the global phenomenon of mysticism, which “involves direct ecstatic experience of the divine,” and the important effects that rituals have on the human brain; the ubiquity of religion in prehistory and how its practices might have helped solidify primitive cultures; and the remarkable growth in religious expression through the Neolithic period and beyond. Bringing us into modern times, Dunbar then explores the occurrence of charismatic cults and the spawning of new religious communities as well as the increasing frequency of schisms within existing religious movements. Near the end, he writes, “beneath the elegant superstructure of…sophisticated theologies lurk the ancestral shamanic religions of our deep history. These older forms play a crucial role in providing the psychological basis for being a believer, because, deep down, religion is largely an emotional, not an intellectual, phenomenon. They offer an explanation as to why the doctrinal religions are plagued by a constant welling up of cults and sects from within their own grassroots.” Seen in that way, religion is indeed an evolutionary tool in the formation of humankind as it exists today, and Dunbar is the perfect guide.

Thoroughly inclusive and fascinating, both scholarly and accessible.

Pub Date: April 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-19-763182-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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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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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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