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Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries
STERLING, 272 PAGES, $19.95

An intriguing question opens this debut publication of the new literary collaboration between globetrotting business executive Stephen Klimczuk and prolific author Gerald Warner: “What is the origin of the basic human instinct to hide away in obscure places, to seek privacy in secret sanctuaries, and to congregate in select groups in venues from which the rest of humanity is excluded?” With this query as a kind of leitmotif, the reader is whisked away on a series of encounters with persons, places, and things that initially strike one as totally unrelated but that on closer inspection turn out to be expressions of that ineradicable human impulse for secrecy, privacy, and exclusivity.

Those who traverse all thirteen chapters of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries will enjoy a whirlwind itinerary. Among the many stops, the reader will visit shrines (Ise Shrine in Japan and the Esalen Institute in California), castles (including Wewelsburg Castle in Germany), ancient orders (the Templars, Knights of Malta, Teutonic Order, and even some Freemasons), hiding places (including “priest holes,” the elaborately disguised hideouts used by Catholic priests during the Elizabethan era), islands (Montecristo and Easter Island); secret military installations (Area 51 and Mount Weather), university clubs (“Skull and Bones”), and private banks (Rothschilds and Swiss banking), ending with a leisurely look at world’s great private clubs (White’s in London, the Knickerbocker in New York, and the most opulent of all, the Caccia in Rome).

While the authors do not shy away from demystifying (as in their presentation of stories surrounding Rennes-le-Châteaux, which they characterize as “wholly bunk”), they never fall into the strident tone of the debunker. On the contrary, fascination with their material exudes from every page.

Yet a close reading of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries suggests that the authors intended more than to stoke the fires of conspiracy theorists and history buffs. Their treatment of Opus Dei”which received a wave of negative publicity thanks to Dan Brown’s portrayal of Opus Dei in his bestselling Da Vinci Code ”will challenge the many untested assumptions that often guide public perception.

Equally interesting is the book’s presentation of the ancient Order of Malta, which emerges not as an anachronistic institution but as singular blend of tradition, resilience, and the ability to adapt its founding chivalric ideals into a remarkable international network of charitable activity.

Perhaps the real accomplishment of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries is that it manages to offer a gentle yet firm retort to the prejudiced and uninformed manner in which the Church, its institutions, and its history are often portrayed in popular culture, while doing so in a way that is interesting, disarming, and entertaining. If the various and sundry topics addressed by the authors are at times eclectic, the same cannot be said of the inventive format that the authors have utilized to maximal effect”a definite yet subtle Christian perspective delivered with a light touch and not a little mirth.

”John Henry Crosby