However this is in fact a pretty good description. THE KINGDOM is a truly bizarre mash-up of personal memoir, history of the early Church, and meditation on the meaning of religion. I am sure I have never read anything like it, and I have learnt a lot from it. For example, I learnt about the insanity of the Emperor Nero, and that by the time of the Roman Empire Athens was "already a museum," and that the author is really into porn about women masturbating, particularly a video called "brunette masturbates and has 2 orgasms."
Yes, it's a strange one. Carrere tells you a lot about his life. Not just the mundane (as per the above: "Saying that evenings are quiet in a mountain village in the Valais region is an understatement, and I dedicate some - in fact almost all - of them to watching pornography on the Internet."); but also the wonderful - in his brief but intense period of Christian belief, which took him by really quite unwelcome surprise. However what I most enjoyed I think was learning about the early days of Christianity. Really, it is quite incredible, that an idea that took off among a bunch of impoverished fishermen so quickly took over the Roman world. I've often found that really strange, and it is interesting to see how it happened.
For example, he tells us about one of the first pagan sources on the Christians, a letter from Pliny the Younger, who had become governor of some region:
Pliny discovers that the civic religion is in decline, the temples are empty, no one at the marketplace wants to buy meat that's been sacrificed to the gods, and from what he's gathered, the principal reason for this . . . is the success of a sect he's never heard of before: the disciples of Christus. They get to together in secret. Pliny's chief of staff thinks it's to have group sex. . . . (Pliny) makes inquiries, sends someone, and the results of his investigations are disconcerting. When they get together, these people limit themselves to sharing a frugal meal, smiling, and singing hymns. So much mildness is worrying. Pliny would have preferred debauchery, but he has to face the facts: no one's sleeping with anyone.
It's amazing, really. The power of ideas to change the world is something really remarkable.
I also learnt a lot about other philosophies in competition with Christianity at that time. Enjoy this as a last snippet, which should make you think twice about our own capitalist world:
Whether Epicureans or Stoics, all the wise men taught that fortune is changing, unpredictable, and that we must be ready to lose all we have without a murmur. None of them, however, would have recommended or even entertained the idea of getting rid of it on purpose. They all considered what they called otium - that is, leisure and the free use of one's time - to be an absolute condition of human accomplishment. Seneca, one of Paul's most famous contemporaries, says something quite nice on that topic: if by some mischance he were reduced to working for a living, no big deal; he'd just kill himself.
After reading this book, I realised I've read another book by this same author: THE ADVERSARY. Memoir? History? No, it's a straightforward piece of true crime. This author is truly kooky. It gives me hope for the world of publishing.