Seriously contentious thinking, at times graceless and a little pushy.

Internet maven Rushkoff, whose previous ponderings (Why We Listen to What “They” Say, 1999, etc.) have delineated threat and thrill in cyberculture, now has news for millions of seriously observant Jews: they don’t get it.

Why are Judaism’s numbers slipping? The author’s readings of its history suggest strongly to him that the flock, not just the rabbis, is supposed to be personally in charge of interpreting scriptures and tenets and, thus, determining how a religion designed to evolve will evolve. Instead, he asserts, misplaced rabbinical strategies for recovering a growing body of “lapsed” congregants—stressing literal interpretations, resisting marriage outside the faith (to maximize procreation of faithful), and endless fundraising based on threats against a “chosen” people and their promised land, Israel—are having exactly the opposite effect. Moreover, Rushkoff laments, Judaism is being dislodged from its bedrock values, which he presents as “iconoclasm, abstract monotheism and social justice.” The road back? Rushkoff suggests no less than letting go of the “chosen” notion altogether (“Judaism is an idea, not a race”) and, with it, the fixation on Israel. Strong stuff, and laid on thick. While the author seems well grounded in historical interpretations of Jewish ideas (Freud is a favorite source), many will reject his claim that enough Jews concluded God must have had something to do with anything as horrible as the Holocaust to trigger a mass postwar return to “purity”—rigidity and formality—in liturgical practice. (The attendant notion, however, of post-Holocaust elevation of the Orthodoxy to the point of its ability to influence both domestic and foreign policy in Israel does have a certain intrigue.) Strangely, he makes little or no mention of the new Torah for conservative US congregations, the Yetz Hayim, annotated with accumulated archaeological data relegating major “historical” milestones in Judaism to the realm of myth—a minor but clear example of Rushkoff’s own plea to rabbis to finally treat their congregations as grownups.

Seriously contentious thinking, at times graceless and a little pushy.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-609-61094-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003



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

Close Quickview