Thoughtful, elegantly written essays for philosophical ponderers.

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SOMETHING THERE IS

SEEKING A RATIONAL FAITH FOR OUR CHILDREN

In this well-written collection of essays styled as letters to his children and grandchildren, an engineer, businessman and father makes his case for “a rational faith.”

Sayre (Flatland, 2014, etc.) is a man of faith, but not in the traditional religious sense. Rather, the objects of his devotion are truth, freedom, communication and organization. Sayre penned his essays at a variety of venues—a hospital, a prison, MIT, etc.—and weaves his writings around them. His philosophical musings are a pleasure to read, whether he’s visiting a school for the mentally challenged or admiring the architecture of Gloucester Cathedral. In fresh and appealing prose, he describes communication, for instance, as “our means of conveying truth and sharing beauty; it is the infrastructure of love.” Readers might naturally want to know if the author believes in God, and Sayre takes his sweet time getting there; finally, he explains his view—“I recognize that there are millions whose answer lies in their belief in a creative God. I hope they will forgive my inability to accept such a hypothesis without question”—while questioning the traditional God who “allows vast injustice to prevail.” Sayre’s deep commitment to reason appears on nearly every page; sometimes, though, it would be nice to see him lighten up more, especially in parts of the book related to family. Fortunately, Sayre’s dry wit pops up every now and again, and he admits, for example, that he got nervous auditioning for a spot in a quartet and, as he says, his self-improvement efforts at the gym leave something to be desired. He veers into his more technical language only briefly, yet overall, Sayre thinks and writes so carefully about philosophical issues that readers who don’t share his beliefs may find themselves as inspired as those who do.

Thoughtful, elegantly written essays for philosophical ponderers.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1931807821

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Peter E. Randall

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2014

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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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