A hefty yet lucid contribution to the history of early Christianity.

THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE

WEALTH, THE FALL OF ROME, AND THE MAKING OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE WEST, 350-550 AD

Render unto Caesar, quoth the New Testament—even when Caesar is the church that Peter built.

Brown (Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, 2002, etc.) may be an emeritus professor of history at Princeton, but his research is resolutely up-to-date. So, too, is his language, as when he writes of a particular trope of the late Roman historian Ammianus, “this was no nostalgia trip on his part,” and when he describes the imposition of the rule of celibacy on the priesthood as “consumer driven.” That last makes particular sense in the context of this sizable book, in which Brown examines the long conflict between Christ-like immiseration and episcopal opulence, a conflict that has its roots in the economic history of the late Roman Empire. In that time, writes the author, there was an uneasy concord between the ruling nobility and the peasantry during a time when barbarian invasions and civil war were the new normal. When the empire dissolved, one way for a wealthy Christian to feel holy was to renounce wealth entirely in the way of the monks; another was to give all his money to the rising church, in which the monks took the place of all the poor outside the walls of the cloister. “Gifts to the city gained fame in this world and this world only,” writes Brown. “By contrast, gifts within the churches were thought to join this world to a boundless world beyond the stars.” Brown charts the growth of the church’s “financial muscle,” venturing intriguing asides as he proceeds on such matters as pagan vestiges within the beliefs of the church and lay society alike—the supernatural connection, for instance, of wealth to the turning of the seasons—and the fact that the ranks of the early Christian church were filled not by the meek and the poor, but instead by “moderately well-to-do townfolk.”

A hefty yet lucid contribution to the history of early Christianity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-691-15290-5

Page Count: 806

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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

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