Audacious anthropological speculation by Young (Literature/Univ. of Essex, England), who traces humanity's spiritual practices back to the ancients and beyond in an attempt to ``heal the rift that opened in the Western soul some 400 years ago when science and religion went their separate ways.'' Decrying today's scientism, or ``science as religion,'' Young calls for a return to ``foundations''—the mythological roots of our understanding of the universe. Most daringly, he looks to the behavior of apes for clues to ``the animal base from which all man's higher activities arise.'' Relying on the work of Jane Goodall and others, Young finds that ``the opening'' toward ``the beginnings of human perplexity'' arose when a chimp first prodded the corpse of another chimp and was puzzled; that ritual arose to help regulate chimp pecking-order; and that love, or at least self- consciousness, may have arisen as a result of brachiation, which physically allowed apes and then hominids to face one another directly. Young then follows the evolution of these potentialities as early man moved onto the savannah, where ``alpha-shaman,'' who united temporal and magical powers, split into alpha and shaman— the template for the 16th-century rift between science and religion and indeed perhaps for all history, since ``at the mythic center of virtually every culture is the story of the hero, and the hero looks like alpha-shaman, who may save both himself and us by refusing to be split in two.'' The remainder of Young's erudite argument basically traces the ways early humanity, up through the Greeks, came to terms with that split—a wide-ranging survey that touches upon, among other concerns, the symbolism of various animals, blood sacrifice, the mythic underpinnings and meanings of Genesis and the Odyssey, and, in an appendix, the etymologies of various words relating to the sacred. A dazzling exposition, intellectually demanding but lightened by lively prose, that goes far to establish Young as the Joseph Campbell of the Nineties. (Line drawings—not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-312-06432-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1991



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

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