Not all preaching to the choir, though—comparative-religion types at least should take a look.



Tremble, ye doubters: God isn’t dead. He’s back—and He’s brought friends.

At turns revisiting his apologia for proselytizing Protestantism, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (1995), erstwhile atheist turned Oxford theology professor McGrath (In the Beginning, 2001, etc.) proposes that belief in the nonexistence of God is passé. Such belief, he suggests, is a mere blip of history, just one more avatar of modernism, to be consigned to the ashbin of history, along with such modernist avatars as communism and fascism and the thought of atheism’s big three thinkers: Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud, “who between them turned a daring revolutionary hypothesis into the established certainty of an age, placing Christianity constantly on the defensive.” McGrath is incontestably correct on a couple of points: modernism certainly did not kill off religion, much as some of modernism’s exponents—Darwin, Freud, Stalin—wished otherwise. Instead, religious fundamentalism is on the rise in every corner of the planet, with all the peace and understanding that rise portends: Hinduism here, Wahabbism there, Pentecostalism everywhere. (“Only a form of Protestantism which is obsessed by theological correctness . . . is vulnerable,” he writes by way of endorsing this experiential approach to Christianity.) McGrath is shakier on other points. For one thing, he appears to extrapolate organized atheism’s future from the fortunes of American Atheists, the aberrant group founded and then run into the ground by the sinister Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Indeed, he fails to consider the possibility that atheists might not be joiners of groups at all, that unbelievers simply don’t go to church, even if it’s a church of infidels. And never mind the possibility that secular intellectuals and scientists may not push atheism these days not because atheism is out, but because the whole question of God’s existence is simply no longer of interest.

Not all preaching to the choir, though—comparative-religion types at least should take a look.

Pub Date: June 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-50061-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?