Friday, October 21, 2011

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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich

Kirkus Reviews

From the disciple Peter to the reigning Benedict, accomplished British historian Norwich (The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean, 2006, etc.) fashions a spirited, concise chronicle of the accomplishments of the most noteworthy popes.

The author is comfortable navigating this vast terrain, which is essentially the history of Christianity—and he even manages to make thenumbing litany of events palatable. Moreover, Norwich is not above questioning historical interpretation, such as over the controversy over John Paul I's death in 1978—was he murdered? With Jesus' pronouncement to his disciple Simon, that "Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church," the leaders of the fledgling Christian church began to organize themselves. Norwich doesn't dwell on St. Paul, but subsequent church elders in the first two centuries CE were Levantines—centered in the Greek-speaking world of the eastern Mediterranean—working to establish churches despite Roman persecution and mostly in Asia. The emperor Constantine's adoption of Christianity in the fourth century, and construction of a basilica dedicated to St. Peter on the Vatican Hill, boosted Christianity's profile enormously. However, marauding hordes laid waste to Rome over the centuries, and early popes had to solidify doctrine and orthodoxy, notably in the time of Gregory the Great and Leo II (who crowned Charlemagne). Norwich lingers over the schism between the Western and Eastern churches, the leaders of the Crusades, the seven popes who resided in Avignon, the rebuilding of the Roman Church during the Renaissance beginning under Nicholas V, the "monsters" (Alexander, Julius), the patrons of the arts (Leo X) and the rulers during the Counter-Reformation, who checked the tide of Protestantism. The author gracefully navigates through the challenges of the Age of Reason, revolution, the Risorgimento and the World Wars, examining the papal responses—e.g., Pius XII's silence in the face of the persecution of the Jews.

Norwich doesn't skirt controversies, ancient and present, in this broad, clear-eyed assessment.

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life Beyond this World by Kevin Malarkey & Alex Malarkey

From the Publisher -

In 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered an horrific car accident. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex—and medically speaking, it was unlikely that he could survive. "I think Alex has gone to be with Jesus," a friend told the stricken dad. But two months later, Alex awoke from a coma with an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious. Of the angels that took him through the gates of heaven itself. Of the unearthly music that sounded just terrible to a six-year-old. And, most amazing of all . . . Of meeting and talking to Jesus. The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven is the true story of an ordinary boy’s most extraordinary journey. As you see heaven and earth through Alex’s eyes, you’ll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father’s love.

God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette

Kirkus Reviews

Admittedly digressive, tangential collection of random thoughts and observations about life from the perspective of a wise-cracking atheist.

Critically acclaimed magician and comedian Jillette (The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, 2010, etc.) organizeshis

latest into chapters that replace each of the Ten Commandments with an atheistic suggestion on how to live life. As such, the author creates his own atheist-libertarian manifesto aimed to disgust and enrage any God-loving churchgoer who dares to peruse even a few pages. Many of his stories, however, do not directly preach atheism or criticize organized religion but instead illustrate "how one goofy atheist lives his life in turn-of-the-century America." Jillette delivers provocative commentary on a variety of controversial topics, such as global warming, 9/11 and airline security. These thoughts are interspersed with personal anecdotes

 about his outrageous adventures and escapades before and after becoming a celebrity, including sex while scuba-diving, relationships with strippers and a mishap involving a hair dryer and scorched genitals. While Jillette writes with a witty finesse that certainly adds humor to his stories, it is usually masked underneath layers of unbridled profanity and vulgarity. Favoring shock value, the author gives the impression that he would be extremely disappointed if his audience did not find him offensive.

Fans of Jillette's outspoken sarcasm and indecency will not be disappointed.

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