Clearly written from a Christian viewpoint, the book nonetheless presents a comprehensive account of Van Gogh’s life and...

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BONE DEAD, AND RISING

VINCENT VAN GOGH AND THE SELF BEFORE GOD

A rich account of the influence of religion on Vincent Van Gogh’s life and art.

Through a mix of academic research and poetic reflection, retired Presbyterian minister Davidson’s book explores Van Gogh’s passionate interest in God. Best known as the painter who severed his ear, the tormented artist suffered from anxiety and mental illness throughout his life, failing at several different careers before his eventual transition to painting. Initially intent upon becoming a cleric like his father, Van Gogh dropped out of theology school and briefly worked as an evangelist before being dismissed on the grounds that “he neglected himself so [that he] could not be an example to others.” While Van Gogh’s paintings are now considered groundbreaking contributions to modern art, the artist’s inability to work in the church plagued him, and he reported feeling “lonely and sad, especially when near a church or parsonage.” After studying 1,700 printed pages of Van Gogh’s letters (the majority of which were addressed to the artist’s brother Theo), the author recounts Van Gogh’s musings on God, nature and art, as well as his turbulent relationships with women, family and fellow artist Paul Gauguin. To the disappointment of those around him, Van Gogh consistently made poor decisions—through his letters, readers learn he repeatedly failed coursework, survived chiefly on alcohol and tobacco and began a domestic partnership with an alcoholic prostitute that immediately becomes problematic. Still, the book creates a detailed sketch of the Dutch post-impressionist painter, depicting him as a talented yet deeply troubled man who loved nature and feverishly yearned for a closer relationship with God. More interpretative segments of the book combine Davidson’s thoughts on Van Gogh’s work along with the writings of Christian scholars, suggesting that paintings such as ”The Night Café” were created in response to the artist’s experience of the divine.

Clearly written from a Christian viewpoint, the book nonetheless presents a comprehensive account of Van Gogh’s life and spiritual inclinations that need not be limited to a religious audience.

Pub Date: March 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1606086162

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Wipf & Stock

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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