A vivid and discerning tour through a land that reflects this epochal figure’s life of exile, questioning, family...

Visiting an Israel of checkpoints and suicide bombings, Feiler (Walking the Bible, 2001, etc.) gracefully explores how the ancient Middle Eastern exile and childless husband became the father of many nations—and the progenitor of religious conflict.

Though lost in the mists of history (probably only a few Jews had heard of him by the time of King David), Abraham made an indelible impact as the first monotheist. Indeed, the lack of documentary evidence encouraged myriad reconstructions of his life. Talking to scholars and religious leaders, Feiler ponders how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam “took a biblical figure open to all, tossed out what they wanted to ignore, ginned up what they wanted to stress” to create an exclusionary symbol. During the Babylonian captivity, Jews saw in Abraham another exile who had experienced countless trials. St. Paul adopted the patriarch as an example of faith preceding Mosaic law, a useful device for opening Christianity to the Gentiles. Muhammad identified Abraham as a precursor of himself, someone strongly associated with Arabia, yet ready to break with his polytheist forebears. Taking account of centuries of these reinterpretations, Feiler insightfully reconsiders the central episodes of Abraham’s saga: the initial call by God; Abraham’s passive acceptance of Sarah’s demand that he cast out his offspring Ishmael (now viewed by Moslems as their ancestor); his challenge to God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah; and, most chillingly, the sacrifice of Isaac, which poses the question of whether devotion to God requires killing. In the end, Feiler embraces another Abraham: “a bridge between humanity and the divine, who demonstrates the example of what it means to be faithful but who also delivers to us God’s blessing on earth.”

A vivid and discerning tour through a land that reflects this epochal figure’s life of exile, questioning, family misunderstandings, and faith.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2002

ISBN: 0-380-97776-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002



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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