Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: The Devil and Philosophy: The Nature of His Game, ed. by Robert Arp

Thirty-five philosophers of varying diabolic inclination gather under editor Robert Arp's direction to opine on whether the devil exists, and if so, what might be his objectives. The 35 thinkers spin short and usually entertaining ruminations exploring deviltry's long reach into history, religion, literature and the arts. The scattershot result likely won't change a reader's mind about what Satan's up to if he's actually around, but the book's a breezy, interesting read written with forked tongues planted firmly in leathery cheeks. (Note: Readers desiring a weightier and very amusing contemplation of Lucifer's curriculum vitae and future plans will enjoy Jeremy Leven's 1982 novel, "Satan, His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.")

Book Review: Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts

There are few, if any, people about whom more books have been written than Napoleon Bonaparte. Given the man's appropriately lauded sociopolitical and legal achievements contrasted against the nearly unimaginable brutality of the wars bearing his name, unsurprisingly Napoleon's myriad biographers are divided between admirers and detractors, the latter outnumbering the former. However, Andrew Roberts' book, Napoleon: A Life, places the author firmly among Napoleon's devotees. The linchpin of this book, as stated on its jacket, is that Roberts "take[s] advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon's thirty-three thousand surviving letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation." Roberts interweaves his subject's vast written commentary covering the entire spectrum from mundane to meaningful against the backdrop of Napoleon's improbable rise and meteoric collapse as militarist and politician in a short life that still resonates loudly in our world today. Roberts paints the end of Napoleon's career as attributable less to a clearly flawed character than to trusting the wrong people and fighting the wrong battles badly. ("When Waterloo is war-gamed, France usually wins," says a footnote on page 766.) Either way, the result reduced Napoleon from Emperor of France and ruler of nearly all Europe to Britain's lonely prisoner, left to die an outcast on a barren, isolated volcanic rock in the South Atlantic, light years from Paris.

Book Review: The Ghost Hunter, by Hans Holzer

The technology-laden art of ghost-hunting commonly practiced today (evidenced by the scads of popular ghost-hunting shows currently haunting your cable television for all the 26 weeks on either side of Halloween) is based largely on an extravagant array of exotic gadgets calibrated to detect the piercing of our earthly veil by ethereal forces otherwise immeasurable dispassionately. This "objective" approach was first widely championed and documented by Briton Harry Price in his 1940 tome, The Most Haunted House in England, a classic in the field examining the haunting of Borley Rectory in Essex. But there are more ways than one to confront a wraith, as celebrated American spirit chaser Hans Holzer demonstrates in his seminal 1963 (reprinted in new editions in 2005 and 2014) work, The Ghost Hunter. Rather than depend on cold engineering's electronic or mechanical fruits like Price and most phantom finders currently on TV, Holzer's methodology relies on selecting deft and trustworthy psychic mediums to accompany him on investigations of locations squatted by specters along America's northeast coast. Once ensconced in a haunted location, Holzer's medium-du-jour allows herself to be commandeered by the wronged spirit so the latter can speak the grievances that compel it to wreak eerie havoc. The book's collection of reports is mostly entertaining, sometimes enlightening, and Holzer's interventions usually (but not always) lead to the elimination of spooky doings once the living appropriately address the ghosts' gripes. Holzer's book teaches it may be folly to assume people's quest for fairness in love and war is constrained by mortal borders, and that a good medium gives any fancy contraption a run for its money in tracking ghosts.