A readable and highly detailed inquiry into the roots and values of Christianity.



A writer searches for the existence and nature of the Christian God.

The “Club” mentioned in the subtitle of Smith’s nonfiction debut is, according to the author, “the (multi-denominational) Christian Church” that was “founded” by Jesus and uses the Bible as its “charter”—meaning, presumably, Christianity. Smith came to his current examination of the Club after a time of being a “lukewarm” Roman Catholic, employing a process called “Experiential Learning” (Using your life experiences “to re-examine and evaluate assertions, ideas, and beliefs”). In his 40s, the author reached a point where he considered it “somewhat likely” that Jesus was not the son of God and that the Gospels may have been altered over the centuries. During the ensuing years, he pursued these questions, reading famous atheist books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and always looking for some kind of intellectual confirmation—through experiential learning—that the basic tenets of the Catholicism of his upbringing were actually true. It’s not many pages later when his doubts have apparently been resolved enough for him to write “we do know we were created by something we call God.” The rest of the book breaks down the exegesis of that belief and provides the author’s intriguing rundown on a wide array of controversial topics on which the Catholic Church has pronounced dogma over the centuries. Masturbation is “a sin,” for instance, and abortion and euthanasia are “against God’s will.” But many of Smith’s readers will be surprised and perhaps pleased at how often he finds the position of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be a “misinterpretation” of God’s will as expressed in Scripture—the author countenances things like contraception and gay sexuality. Those same readers will find Smith’s lucid analytical approach to all of the teachings of the Club endlessly thought-provoking.

A readable and highly detailed inquiry into the roots and values of Christianity.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5456-1204-0

Page Count: 414

Publisher: Xulon Press

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2020

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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