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Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America Hardcover – May 31, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

Why should all Americans –not just Christians and Jews -- care about the Ten Commandments? Chris Hedges, a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Harvard Divinity School graduate, believes that the commandments keep us from committing evil. They hold our communities together. "They lead us to love, the essence of life," he writes.

Adapted from his series of articles for the New York Times comes these thoughtful essays on why we need these ancient laws -- and what happens when we abandon them. A Phish band groupie provides a springboard for a discussion of idolatry. A Long Island whiskey bar becomes a laboratory for understanding "You shall not bear false witness." Honoring the Sabbath, he shows through the observances of one busy family, may be the antidote to popular culture. The story of the havoc wreaked on one child’s life vividly illustrates the reason for the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." Throughout his essays, he deftly weaves his own experiences into the narrative, as well as references from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic book on good and evil, The Brothers Karamazov.

Hedges believes that the commandments hold out to us the possibility of love -- and love means living for others. The commandments are guideposts that bring us back to the right path, he writes. They call us to sacrifice. Compellingly, he urges us to abandon the culture of self; to live "not by exalting our life but by being willing to lose it." --Cindy Crosby

From Publishers Weekly

Hedges, a correspondent at the New York Times, first made a name in the book world with his remarkable study War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Now Hedges, the son of a Presbyterian minister, brings together ruminations on the 10 Commandments. Inspired by Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Decalogue (a series of 10 films, each based on one of the commandments) each of these pieces profiles someone who has "struggled on a deep and visceral level with one of the commandments." Some of the chapters—like Hedges's meditation on how consumerism becomes a way of taking the Lord's name in vain—are quite profound. And some of the connections he makes are refreshingly creative; his chapter on idolatry, for example, tells the story of a young woman who makes an idol out of the rock band Phish. But sometimes, he's banal ("Time is short. Life is brief"), and sometimes Hedges's very creativity drains his profiles of impact. The chapter on greed, for example, portrays a woman named Karen Adey, who dreams about becoming a multimillionaire and has hemorrhaged thousands of dollars attending self-help seminars in an effort to make her dream come true. This chapter could have resonated more if he had written about someone whose covetousness was just as pervasive, but a little more run-of-the-mill, like the college kid who goes into credit card debt buying clothes and CDs he doesn't need. Although this exploration of the 10 Commandments is uneven, much of it is provocative. (June 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (May 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743255135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743255134
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Hedges is a cultural critic and author who was a foreign correspondent for nearly two decades for The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. He reported from Latin American, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism, and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. Hedges, who holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He is a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute and writes an online column for the web site Truthdig. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and the University of Toronto.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

116 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I purchased my copy of this abominably titled book in Borders, in the "Christianity, Practical Living" section. I am not a Christian and sought it out solely because of my familiarity with Hedges' earlier work.

This is not a "Christian" book, any more than Krzysztof Kieslowski's "The Decalogue" (its model) is a "Christian" television series. Kieslowski and his writing partner, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, a lawyer from whose experiences several of the episodes were taken, focused "The Decalogue" on the fictionalized lives of people entangled in ancient moral dilemmas in bleak 1980s Warsaw. Hedges takes the same tack with ten non-fictional vignettes from life in 21st century post-industrial America.

I find Hedges' writing almost unbearably intense; his moral authority clearly hard won. Even when I disagree with him, I have nothing but respect for his courage in refusing to look away. Here is a man who has obviously been deeply affected by what he has witnessed and experienced in life and is determined to learn---and teach---from it. That the teachings are very, very old only makes this book all the more worth reading, absorbing and passing on---whether you are a Christian or not.
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leeper on March 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After seeing the title on the shelf, I picked up the book thinking to be a book in line with the typical religious fare. A friend had read War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, so I thought this would be an interesting take on religion. I was surprised.

The book is religious in that Hedges does have a religious background and that the book is discussing the Ten Commandments. However, this book is in a word, gritty. It takes some of the everyday things we see and puts them into context. We understand how these things have a bigger impact on us, but more importantly, we see how these transgressions have a huge impact on society.

The book is not a quick and easy read. It requires some focus and some reflection, but it is time well spent. The author urges us from the self to selflessness, so that we as a society can better get along in this ever increasingly complex world we live in.

I would highly recommend this book. Even if you find yourself feeling frustrated with the writer (which I was at times because I didn't follow or disagreed), this book will make you think about the world around us and our part in it.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful By W. Szewai on June 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Losing Moses on the Freeway" is a searing experience: emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. The simplest things in life are the most profound, yet so often people do not see the profound precisely because it is simple. People tune out platitudes about love because they've heard them all their lives, and their eyes skim off the surface without realizing the extraordinary nature and power of this emotion. But Hedges pierces through to the dual awareness of the simple, which is, at the same time, the profound.

The stories here are unadorned and close to the bone: among them, a Vietnam veteran who became an Episcopal priest, haunted for the rest of his life by "You shall not kill"; Hedges' own decision not to be ordained when he realized that his dreams of becoming a minister were "the idolatry of self, the worship not of God but of my virtue"; a deeply moving tribute to his father and parenthood: "We all carry...our link with the past, wanted or unwanted. We cannot wash it away. It is rather a matter of what we do with it, how we honor it, how we redeem the experience to protect and create life."

Interwoven is also a luminous reflection on the ruthless progress of time - past and future existing at once in the present - and the unbearable ache of life: for the more deeply we love, the more vulnerable we become to loss, but it is only in love and giving life to others that we find meaning.

This book is filled with tremendous compassion but also with unflinching and often disturbing insight into human nature. To read it honestly requires a kind of self-confrontation.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on January 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
I suspect that for many people in our post-modern culture, the 10 Commandments evoke thoughts of moralizing television evangelists, perhaps disbelief that anyone would devote themselves to such archaic strictures, or, more commonly, sheer ignorance. In any case, that would be to our great peril, argues Chris Hedges, author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002).

Hedges brings a remarkable life story and degree of passion to his story-telling about these most famous Ten Words--mystery, idols, lying, sabbath, family, murder, adultery, theft, envy, greed and, in an epilogue, love. As a pastor's kid, he grew up in rural upstate New York, where his father was a Presbyterian pastor. Five years at an elite boarding school, the loneliness of his childhood, left him with "a deep hostility to authority and a visceral distaste for the snobbery of the 'well-born.'" Six days after graduating from Colgate University he began a two year stint as a pastor in the violent ghetto of Roxbury in metro Boston, an experience so unsettling that it provoked him to leave the church and seminary. After a year in South America he completed his divinity degree at Harvard, though not without caustic opinions about liberal professors who romanticized the poor whom they had never met, and the lectures which he experienced as "intellectual shell games." In a prescient understatement his father remarked to him that he was "ordained to write," and so he did, as an award-winning war correspondent in some 50 countries over 20 years.

Hedges has not written an exegetical or even theological treatise about the 10 Commandments, but rather existential reflections on them rooted in first person life experiences.
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