Deserves—and will almost certainly find—a wide readership while garnering for Wills both praise as a principled...

The prolific historian offers a timely confession of faith and an apology in the true sense of the term.

Wills (James Madison, p. 244, etc.) is not just any Catholic: he studied for the priesthood, has worked in Jesuit and papal archives, and has written many books on moral matters and the intersection of politics and religion. For having dared question the Church’s positions on matters of doctrine great and small, he has been nearly stripped of his membership as one of the faithful. “I am not a special case,” he writes, “but in many ways a typical one.” In light of all this, asked why he chooses to remain a Catholic, Wills answers with quiet dignity, “because of the creed.” By this he means the creed offered by Christ in the Lord’s Prayer (ever the trained classicist, he offers a new translation that hugs closely to the original Greek) and by the apostles, who pledged faith in “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Would that it were all so simple. Arguing against generations of doctrine on such matters as women’s unsuitability for the priesthood, papal infallibility, and “peripheral stances taken by church authorities, some of which are not only non-binding but scandalous and morally repulsive,” the author takes a long tour through Catholic history, separating the words of Jesus, Peter, and Paul from their later representatives and, critics might object, casting aside whatever does not suit him in search of a more user-friendly brand of Catholicism. Though immensely learned and capable of holding his own in any argument, Wills also calls on some heavy-hitters for backup, including English writer G.K. Chesterton (a favorite of clerical conservatives), saintly socialist Dorothy Day, and the brilliant Thomas Aquinas.

Deserves—and will almost certainly find—a wide readership while garnering for Wills both praise as a principled oppositionist and condemnation as a heretic.

Pub Date: July 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-13429-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002



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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