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The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today's Politics

The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today's Politics

by William Safire

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One of America's foremost political columnists ties the Book of Job to the news of the day in a provacative exploration of how we can reshape politics by following Job's empowering example.


One of America's foremost political columnists ties the Book of Job to the news of the day in a provacative exploration of how we can reshape politics by following Job's empowering example.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the biblical Book of Job, an upright man suffers for no apparent reason and later reconciles himself with the God whose fairness he questioned. A paean to patience? Hardly, maintains Safire, who interprets Job's central lesson to be that we are morally obligated to defy unjust authority and to hold those in power accountable. The New York Times columnist celebrates Malcolm X, Andrei Sakharov and Menachem Begin as dissenters of Joban stature. With mixed success, he draws on the lessons of the biblical tale in order to critique President Bush's failure to topple Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton's political career and the doings of Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and others. Safire movingly portrays Abraham Lincoln as ``our most Joban president,'' one who refused to compromise his principles. His conversationally written gloss sets forth guidelines for how to pursue a ``Joban life'' by refusing to accept injustice from any quarter. An appendix reprints the Book of Job. Illustrated with William Blake engravings. Author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Safire has written a stimulating book that uses the Bible's Book of Job to illustrate the relationship between authority and dissent. He finds in Job a justification for ``defiance of unjust authority.'' Even readers who do not agree with Safire's interpretation can appreciate the insights he offers into fundamental questions of political philosophy and practical politics. Because of Safire's considerable writing skills, the book can be profitably read by both general readers and scholars. Highly recommended for the religion and politics collections of both public and academic libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/92.-- Thomas H. Ferrell, Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette
Zom Zoms
First published in 1968 as "The New Language of Politics", word-maven Safire's compendium is now in its fourth edition, with definitions for more than 1,800 political terms. Many new and revised entries reflect events that have occurred in American politics during the 15 years since the last edition. In the book's introduction, Safire continues to chart the words and phrases introduced by our presidents. The Reagan years brought us such coinages as "evil empire", "star wars", "Teflon-coated presidency", and "Reaganomics"; Bush gave us "vision thing", "read my lips", "voodoo economics", and "a thousand points of light". Such events as the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union have added "glasnost" and "perestroika". Common words such as "amendment" or "diplomat", readily found in any dictionary, are not included here. Hidden entries--those that would ordinarily be found by browsing, rather than looking them up--are brought to the user's attention in the introduction. These include suffixes ("-nomics"), speech constructions ("I see construction", "contrapuntal phrases"), and "euphemisms, political", among others Each entry contains a brief definition informed by a more lengthy word history. Quotations from politicians and others provide context and examples of current and past usage. Word and phrase etymologies clarify the origins of a term: "politically correct" is traced to the Maoist "correct thinking", the 1983 film "Sudden Impact" with Clint Eastwood is cited under "make my day", and "sound bite" has its roots in newsroom film editing in the 1960s. Notes on pronunciation may be appended; for example, "junta" is "HOON-ta" in the U.S., but Anglicized as "JUN-ta" in Britain. Cross-references are usually provided, although there are none for most of the 30 or so individual terms under the heading "CIA-ese" ("sheep dipping", "black bag job"). The dictionary concludes with an interesting description of Safire's research process and a name index. The bibliography has been dropped from this edition Most reference collections should acquire a copy of this highly readable, informative work.
Gilbert Taylor
The dictionist, columniator, anthologist, and loyal Nixonian enters a hermeneutical field ever fecund since the woes were first written of "a man of blameless and upright life named Job, who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing." When Safire presents his running "punditorial" of this perplexing biblical tale of testing, rebelling, and surrender, he joins fellow brooders of same such as William Blake, Herman Melville, and Abe Lincoln. Blake illustrated the Book of Job (16 plates reproduced here), Melville quoted it in "Moby Dick", and Lincoln sermonized on its problem of divining God's purposes in his second inaugural address. Safire's metier is politics, of course, a synonym for the process of striking a balance between the allegiance "Authority" can legitimately demand from the "Subject." Somewhere between those poles oscillate the arguments used to pin the matter down, and resisting the temptation to be carried away by the sublimity of defining freedom and dissidence, Safire puts it on the ground with modern examples of tribulation and defiance. A Kurdish leader to whom he dedicates this tome, or candidates tempered by defeat, or the rules for sourcing and confirming his newspaper stories illustrate his exegesis of some point in the Joban text, which is furnished complete. Not for him is the "patience of Job," an egregiously mistaken slogan in his view, but that attack typifies the vibrancy of this commendable continuation of the ancient discussion of the bounds of religious and secular piety.
Kirkus Reviews
The Book of Job as a guide to modern political dissent: on the face of it, a risky, if not goofy, enterprise that Safire (Language Maven Strikes Again, 1990, etc.) pulls off with wit and moral passion. Safire admits upfront that he "is reading into this"—the text of Job—"more than there is." Nonetheless, he argues persuasively that this story of an innocent man tormented by God is not, as tradition would have it, a paean to patience, but rather "a sustained note of defiance." As such, Job's outrage at his treatment is a "metaphor for principled resistance to authoritarian rule," and Job himself is the granddaddy of Mandela, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, and all other moral dissidents. Safire offers an unorthodox exegesis of the text (describing the peroration by God out of the whirlwind as "blustering" and "bombastic"), and notes how translators have watered down Job's words, diluting protest into acquiescence. He finds lessons in Job for believers ("don't ask God to do you a favor") and skeptics ("you will surely never find the answer by fearing to ask"). The amusement and moral intensity rise when Safire turns to 20th-century politics. Mulling over party loyalty, for instance, he praises Nixon and Kennedy as "the two Presidents who did inspire lasting loyalty among the troops," and he reveals how a diary detailing a JFK extramarital affair was destroyed out of misapplied fealty. Here and abroad (Mandela gets applause for sticking by Castro), the corridors of power echo with Job-inspired lessons. To wit (Safire loves to aphorize): "Use it or lose it"; "close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades"—but also, on the upbeat side, "persuade yourself that no need is moreurgent than the need to know"; and, the unassailable refuge of the moral dissident, "make higher laws." To be sent immediately in plain brown wrapping to all freedom fighters—and their foes.

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Random House Publishing Group
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6.69(w) x 9.45(h) x (d)

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