Enthusiastic but lackluster travel writing.

WALKING WITH PLATO

An English journalist’s account of his three-month summer walking tour of Great Britain.

For Hayden (You Kant Make It Up!: Strange Ideas from History's Great Philosophers, 2011), walking had always been “a rather dull affair.” But when his wife, Wendy, proposed that they do the “End-to-End,” a walkabout that extended from the northeastern tip of Scotland to the southwestern tip of England, he could not resist the physical challenge. The two set off from John o’Groats, which had won an award in 2010 as “Scotland’s most dismal town.” The journey got off to a difficult start, with Hayden and Wendy forced to use the tarmacked roads they had wanted to avoid. Suffering from frequent foot and body soreness, the author soon found his thoughts turning to philosophy. During the boring, rainy days on the trek to Inverness, for example, a brooding Hayden recalled Bertrand Russell’s observations that “external interests are key to happiness.” As the footpaths of the beautiful Scottish Highlands opened to them, the mood lightened. Hayden’s thoughts turned to Epicurus, who believed that the simple things—such as biscuits and coffee after a hard day’s walk—often brought the most intense pleasures. The “pitfalls and privations” of the magnificent Pennine Way followed, which led Hayden to contemplate Viktor Frankl’s idea that it was struggle for a worthy cause that made life meaningful. Through wind and fog, sun and rain, the pair traveled such celebrated routes as the Heart of England and Cotswold Ways, where they encountered “woodland and pasture…ploughed fields…and ancient town[s] with enchanting Tudor cottages.” Unfortunately, the author’s descriptions of these and other treasures he encountered on the way are pedestrian and perfunctory. Observing Hayden relearning how to delight in “simply being” may offer satisfaction for some readers, but the overall narrative comes across as trite and unoriginal.

Enthusiastic but lackluster travel writing.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78074-656-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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