A sharp, engrossing book for open-minded readers.

THE SECRET TEACHERS OF THE WESTERN WORLD

A writer on esoteric and occult subjects looks at the people who influenced Western thought through theories of a “living, intelligent universe through which [individuals] could participate through…[the] imagination.”

In his latest book, Lachman (Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World, 2014, etc.) uncovers the esoteric or “secret” knowledge that underlies Western philosophy. He suggests that two bodies of knowledge coexist together like the left and right sides of the brain: traditional Western philosophies focus on “ ‘facts’ that can be grasped by the senses and proven by measurement,” whereas esoteric ones focus on knowledge of “the invisible and intangible.” The author examines the work of such pre-Socratic thinkers as Thales and Pythagoras and sets their ideas in the context of Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and early Christian history. These lesser-known philosophers, along with more celebrated ones like Plato, were all to some degree concerned with explorations of gnosis, the inner experience of spirituality that could potentially lead everyone to “share equally in the divine.” In the centuries to follow, medieval Christian fraternities like the Cathars and Rosicrucians turned to Gnosticism to challenge established Christian dogmas. As Renaissance Europeans turned away from God and toward science to explain reality, esotericism took on the role of the “unconscious” mind in a world growing increasingly dependent on rational explanation. Yet as Lachman shows, esoteric knowledge persisted, especially in the face of social, political, and economic uncertainty, and could be found in the work of poets as diverse as Dante, Goethe, and Blake. In the modern era, esotericism re-emerged as part of so-called New Age knowledge and practices involving, for example, tarot and astrology. The author’s conclusion—that the time has come for a synthesis of traditional and esoteric forms of knowledge—is fascinating. But where the author is most successful is in how he manages to make basic concepts in esoteric philosophies and history lively as well as readable.

A sharp, engrossing book for open-minded readers.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16680-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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