A riveting history and valuable lesson for our time about the perils of neutrality.



A deeply troubling indictment of the cautious pope who acceded in 1939 and remained “neutral” during the Fascist and Nazi wartime regimes.

In this meticulously researched book, historian Kertzer, who has written extensively on modern papal history (The Pope and Mussolini, The Popes Against the Jews, etc.), makes good use of newly opened wartime archives, sealed since Pius XII’s death in 1958. The evidence of Pius’ silence in the face of repeated calls to stop the atrocities against the Jews and others by the Nazis and Fascists is absolutely damning. Eugenio Pacelli had been Pius XI’s loyal secretary of state, and he spent considerable time appeasing the Nazis since they came to power in 1933—e.g., engineering a concordat with Hitler. Pius XI, who in the early years of his papacy helped Mussolini solidify his dictatorship, eventually became alarmed with the Italian dictator’s ever tightening embrace of the Nazi regime and was indeed becoming outspokenly problematic for the two closest Axis powers. When Pius XI died in February 1939, the ever cautious, scholarly, German-speaking Pacelli became pope—and the best ally the two dictators could hope for. Throughout World War II, he maintained a timorous disposition in the face of their increasing aggression—Kertzer reminds us that “Hitler had long viewed the Duce as his role model”—despite the piles of documentation that reveal how he was frequently informed of the brutalities committed by the Nazis and their willing collaborators. During this time, countless victims beseeched him to stand up and do something as a moral leader. The pope, casting himself as a peacemaker, managed to play his cards skillfully even when the Allies invaded and took pains not to bomb the Vatican. As a result, the institution of the Catholic Church emerged largely unscathed from the war, effectively scrubbing clean its Fascist and Nazi collaboration. Kertzer is to be commended for bringing it all to light in page-turning fashion.

A riveting history and valuable lesson for our time about the perils of neutrality.

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8994-6

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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 sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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