A convincing thesis from a wise and civilized voice.

The latest attempt to explain the propensity of civilized nations to repeatedly engage in the massacre of their neighbors, a practice alternately known as genocide, race riots, ethnic cleansing, and, simply, mass murder.

Distinguished Lebanese novelist Maalouf (Ports of Call, 1999, etc.), long-time resident of France, focuses on the universal human need for a sense of identity. When it’s threatened or simply denigrated, individuals seethe with resentment. Yet this murderous need to belong is absurdly changeable, dependant on history, politics, geography, or economics. Thus, being black provides no sense of identity throughout much of Africa. In Nigeria, one is Ibo or Hausa, in Rwanda, Hutu or Tutsi, a difference that can be a matter of life and death. To those who move to the US this becomes unimportant: every black is black above all. The author looks not unkindly on America’s preoccupation with political correctness. No movie can cast a black as a criminal without other blacks in admirable roles, such as police chief. Maalouf regards this as a reasonable effort of a multicultural society to avoid marginalizing any group. Worldwide, the greatest threat to individual identity is globalization, promoted by developed countries (and threatening to the undeveloped), and led by the US (provoking resentment by everyone). Globalism is really a synonym for modernization: technology, relaxed morals, a breakdown in tradition. The author stresses that all this is an entirely western phenomenon, which means it’s a Christian phenomenon. With this in mind, the explosion of Islamic fundamentalism becomes less a mystifying religious ideology than an effort to preserve self-respect in the face of a menacing foreign ideology. As an Arab, a Christian, and an exile, Maalouf draws on long experience with the stress of holding onto an identity not shared by most of his neighbors.

A convincing thesis from a wise and civilized voice.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-593-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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