A relevant, necessary reminder about the power of kindness and good intentions.

THE COMPASSIONATE CONNECTION

THE HEALING POWER OF EMPATHY AND MINDFUL LISTENING

A family and integrative medicine practitioner extols the universal healing power of kindness and mutual respect.

Rakel (Chair, Family and Community Medicine/Univ. of New Mexico; Integrative Medicine, 2002) explores the hot-button topic of empathy in everyday life. Using clinical anecdotes and drawing on 30 years of published sociology, psychology, meditative, and neuroscientific studies to support his theories and recommendations, the author promotes the synergistic two-way street of helping others while receiving in return the soul-nourishing emotional and physical benefits. “The human brain is actually wired for cooperation and giving,” he writes. “But we’re not always good at it.” Though many often bungle it, Rakel clearly believes everyone has the capacity to promote, cultivate, and boost health, healing, and “positive contagion” by making a lasting human and mind-body connection with others. This involves refocusing energy and attention more toward improving our listening skills and on being present in moments of personal interaction. The author acknowledges that technological advances in medicine and social networking have robbed our culture of many avenues and opportunities to establish these connections, but he notes that it’s up to us to do the work of releasing everyday biases, creating trustworthy bonds with others, and propagating mindfulness. While a lucidly presented, proactive approach to the benefits of human interactions, Rakel’s two-part guide has the potential to confuse his target audience with overly scientific jargon. Sections on mirror neurons, neuroplasticity, and epigenetics may be too complex for general readers eager for life guidance. Conversely, chapters on caregiver burnout, nonverbal communication, and personal authenticity will be easily understood and will ring true to many with an open mind and a willingness to try. In furthering the agenda of altruism and empathy, Rakel believes a more considerate world is indeed possible. Readers open to positive change will welcome this guidebook and apply the book’s mindfulness meditations offered in an appendix.

A relevant, necessary reminder about the power of kindness and good intentions.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-24774-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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

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