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Lamott always delivers flashes of wisdom and inspiration that resonate, particularly with her most devoted readers, but the...

A meditation on the benefits of discovering and extending mercy.

In her recent books, bestselling author Lamott (Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, 2014, etc.) has increasingly delved into the challenges of finding and sustaining faith, especially when confronting incidences of misfortune or cruelty. Often drawing on her own experiences as a mother and devoted friend, her struggles with alcoholism, finding solace and sustenance by embracing Christianity, and embracing a sense of community, the author offers spiritually enhancing, life-affirming lessons, often punctuated with her signature wit and accessible wisdom. In examining the nature of what it means to be merciful, Lamott treads over a good deal of her inner landscape that will be familiar to her readers. As usual, her examples are loaded with references from pop culture, literature, and philosophy, but she draws most extensively from Scripture. The biblical stories serve to provide fuller dimension to the many forms in which mercy may present itself and reflect on the most awe-inspiring results. Lamott also touches on some extreme examples from our recent past—e.g., the relatives of the nine people gunned down at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston in 2015 speaking of forgiveness for the killer or teenage Tibetan nuns who were tortured in prison but later prayed for the Chinese guards who had held them captive. “When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves,” writes the author, “we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp. It gives us the chance to rediscover something both old and original, the sweet child in us who, all evidence to the contrary, was not killed off, but just put in the drawer.”

Lamott always delivers flashes of wisdom and inspiration that resonate, particularly with her most devoted readers, but the book is a somewhat opaque and redundant exercise that never quite feels grounded.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1358-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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

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