A studious and fluent appeal for the benefits of a sound mind.

How an ancient Chinese philosophy applies to the strictures of modern life.

Slingerland (Asian Studies and Chinese Thought/Univ. of British Columbia; What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture, 2008, etc.) introduces broad strategies for attaining and instilling the ancient Taoist art of wu-wei (“no trying”), a clear unselfconsciousness of the self. Developed by early Chinese philosophers such as Confucius, Laozi and Xunzi, wu-wei induces de, the simultaneous harmony of the mind, body and spirit, producing a calm outward posture that’s palpably reassuring and trusting to others. The author presents the many ways to achieve de, as detailed by early Chinese philosophers, and he discusses how this uncontrived state brings a new understanding and valuing to one’s life. Slingerland lucidly addresses the power of developing a “cultured spontaneity” and accessibly explains how the need to shut off our minds and bodies can be challenging in an age when smarter and faster is the status quo. Further, he explores the lives and work of five “thinkers” who taught their philosophies during the upheaval of the Warring States period in ancient China and what modern culture can learn from the practice of wu-wei. Richly fortified with Daoist parables and anecdotes, the narrative offers examples of the history and consistent effectiveness of wu-wei, including the author’s own attainment of it while penning this book within the coveted “writing zone.” Delivered via clever and convincing explanation, Slingerland advocates for the adoption of wu-wei into daily life, and in doing so, true contentment and serenity should follow. “In addition to helping us get beyond strong mind-body dualism,” he writes, “the Chinese concepts of wu-wei and de reveal important aspects of spontaneity and human cooperation that have slipped through the nets of modern science.”

A studious and fluent appeal for the benefits of a sound mind.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7704-3761-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014



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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