Reviews for Death of Adam : Essays on Modern Thought


Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 September 1998
Robinson is revered for her novel, Housekeeping (1980), but the sophisticated nonfiction found in Mother Country (1989), and in the intellectually rigorous and stylistically superb essays collected here, is her forte. She begins by boldly indicting contemporary discourse as "short on substance." Rather than achieving what religion, art, and philosophy are capable of, that is, to "expand or refine our sense of human experience," Robinson believes modern thought is tainted by the reductionism of economics, an obsession with the marketplace that engenders a debilitating loss of historical context, and encourages disrespect for thinking and learning. Robinson develops her critique of the spiritual, moral, and aesthetic shortcomings of modern thought in hard-hitting essays about Darwinism; unduly trivialized figures such as John Calvin; our focus on anxiety and the "medicalization of sorrow"; our brittle definitions of family and religion; our rampant materialism; and the need to sacrifice wilderness to save the earth. Uncompromising and resolutely eloquent, Robinson exposes and demolishes current shibboleths with the force of her reasoning, erudition, and passion for truth. ((Reviewed September 1, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 1998 July #2
The author of Housekeeping (1980) and Mother Country (1989) challenges the accepted views of Calvin, Darwin, and others to invigorate intellectual discourse and, by extension, change our days and minds. As with her earlier works, Robinson's essays are marked by her uneasiness with the workings of society and human consciousness. Here she attempts to counter people's disturbingly easy acceptance of the ``prevailing view of things'' by taking a ``contrarian'' approach that assumes any side in fact, each may be wrong. Her aim is not to ridicule but to provide alternatives: ``Put aside what we know, and it will start to speak to us again,'' she says. Her essays on John Calvin revisit his contributions to modern government and religion, disputing Max Weber's views of Protestantism and uncovering the influence of Renaissance writer Marguerite de Navarre. With the Mencken-inspired title ``Puritans and Prigs'' she traces the ``generalized disapproval'' of Puritanism to today's self-congratulatory priggish eating of fish and correcting of offensive diction. The book's title refers to the consequence of Darwinism, that is, the usurpation of God and human impulses by hard-wiring. As with all good philosophical essays, these pieces do more than shape thinking. They re about life as it s lived now. Like the 19th-century reformers she so appreciates in ``McGuffey and the Abolitionists,'' the author wants to engender good faith. When what passes for social criticism these days is issue-bound journalism, and when intellectual debate is largely confined to ivy halls, Robinson's laboriously researched, inclusively presented opinions are welcome. They serve scholarship well, enlarging the audience for dialogue on broad questions of how to live. Her dogged textual dissections (e.g., of Lord Acton and other critics of Calvin) illuminate her readings; her epigrammatic observations (e.g., spiritual agoraphobes ) vividly capture our states of mind. Set aside Robinson's occasional sober prolixity and find a moral gauntlet. This is a book written in hope. Copyright 1998 Reviews

----------------------
Library Journal Reviews 1998 September #2
Contrarian in method and spirit, this title fields a host of unapologetically demanding critical essays. From the introduction, reclaiming religion's role in culture, to the final essay, on civilization and wilderness, each bracing page compels response to a positively asserted and forcefully argued moral vision. Here passion and intellect are wed. Robinson (Mother Country, LJ 5/1/89) assays our common cultural ore, exposing dross and rediscovering worth and truth. An uncommon critic, she delves into diverse material and does not deny her religious roots but taps into them as she examines how Midwestern abolitionists inspired the McGuffey Reader, how Creationism spurs on contemporary Darwinism, and what's kind about Calvin. Dense with literary references, this book sorely needs the footnotes and bibliography it evidently lacks. Nonetheless, it is recommended for public and academic libraries. John R. Leech, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 1998 July #4
"My intention, my hope, is to revive interest in... John Calvin. If I had been forthright about my subject, I doubt that the average reader would have read this far." That's the introduction to one essay, but it could also apply to most of Robinson's (Housekeeping) first book in nearly a decade. Among the 10 essays here is one on the idea of wilderness and an intensely personal meditation on growing up Presbyterian, but these are essentially afterthoughts to an impassioned argument against America's contemporary social Darwinists cum free marketeers. And here's where Calvin comes in. She rebuts the characterization of Calvin as protocapitalist and the quick dismissal of his Puritan followers as prigs. Instead, she finds in their example a more fulfilling morality, one that substitutes personal responsibility for contemptuous condemnation of our fellows and a more personal, independent relationship with God and conscience. The corollary of the notion that "our unhappiness is caused by society, is that society can make us happy," she writes, adding, "Whatever else it is, morality is a covenant with oneself, which can only be imposed and enforced by oneself." Though there are occasional problems for example, the argument "an important historical `proof' very current among us now is that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence unconscious of the irony of the existence of slavery" is simply a straw man. But for the most part her moral integrity is accompanied by an equally rigorous intellectual integrity, and rather than accepting received wisdom she hunts it out for herself among original texts. In the process, she revives founding beliefs as a possible solution for current ills. (Sept.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

----------------------