BEGINNING ANEW

A WOMAN'S COMPANION TO THE HIGH HOLY DAYS

Fascinating essays on Jewish women, holidays, and conception, as seen through the eyes of feminist thinkers. This elegant series of articles focuses on the relationships of the Jewish matriarchs to the women around them. The book opens with the Bible passage describing the events between Abraham, Sarah, Hagar (Sarah's handmaid and Abraham's concubine), and the sons both women bear. These writers go beyond the inherent cruelty of the story (Hagar is twice cast out into the desert) and try to grasp the feelings of the real women involved. Rosellen Brown beautifully describes a friendship between Sarah and Hagar, and envisions Ishmael and Isaac growing up as brothers. Others seek to understand Sarah's anger and imagine her fury at her barrenness, which is God's will, and at Abraham's willingness to conceive a child with another woman. Several writers point towards the concept of teshuva (repentance, or literally ``turning around'') to portray Sarah as a woman with passion and regret, not simply as a spiteful harridan, and point out that when God remembers Sarah, it implies that at some point she had been forgotten. Barren women give birth to heroes, writes Francine Klagsbrun in her brilliant essay on Hannah, and they always conceive on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Hannah's strength is her ability to pray silently to God for a son. Her silent method of prayer becomes not only the standard for Jewish prayer but is answered by the opening of her womb by God. Hannah's sacrifice of her son, Samuel, to the temple priests is rendered both moving and awful by these writers. One even warns of Samuel's future nemesis by noting how closely his name is tred to the root for Saul's name. The essays are surprisingly modern given the subjects, and the writing is uniformly excellent. Insightful, thought-provoking, and wise—a treasure for all Jewish women seeking insights for the New Year.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-82687-9

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997

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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 very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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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