A valuable, earth-friendly lesson, not presented artfully.

ANCIENT WISDOMS

EXPLORING THE MYSTERIES AND CONNECTIONS

In Redfern’s encyclopedic second book, she looks to the lessons modern civilization should learn from ancient, indigenous cultures.

There’s a little bit of everything in this book: the Maya calendar and 2012, Atlantis, Native mysticism, galactic pseudoscience, shamans, dimensional jumps, and spirit guides who speak through the author. Redfern’s basic message is that modern humanity must return to the geocentric, brotherly values of indigenous cultures. To prove that ancient cultures across the continents and over the millennia had the same basic philosophy, Redfern chops her book into small chapters about each culture. The Hopi get a few pages; ancient people in Norway, Colombia and Alaska each have a chapter; African tribes have their own section. Redfern wants to convey similarities in religion, customs and even language. Ancient people held these beliefs; therefore, modern people should also hold these beliefs. The problem is in the book’s structure and writing, which can feel like a collection of pamphlets, rather than a coherent argument. Certain aspects of Redfern’s sketches of native cultures are interesting, but the connections she draws between tribes are not powerful enough to sustain an entire book. Redfern is also not a trained anthropologist, and even though there are footnotes in the book, some of her claims about the similarities between cultures separated by oceans and centuries are hard to swallow. Take her point about the term “Masma.” According to Redfern, “Masma” was both the name of a tribe of pre-Columbian Peruvians, and also the name that Romans gave to an African tribe. Redfern claims, “This indicates a connection between these cultures,” which could be explained by ancient travel, or a common originating civilization. The logic isn’t sound. First of all, the word “Masma” is spelled using western characters, which would have been unavailable to Peruvians, Africans or Romans. If the same word, or two words that sound similar, are actually used to describe these two cultures, then that would seem more like a translation error than divine intervention. Redfern doesn’t bolster her case when she repeatedly mentions her “spirit friends” who channel information to her. An additional problem is the tangled, tortuous sentences: “The Ancients remind us of the importance of applying peace and love in personal living before communities cooperate.” This sentence represents her overall thesis, but it takes too much effort for the reader to untangle its meaning.

A valuable, earth-friendly lesson, not presented artfully.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-1449057602

Page Count: 248

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2012

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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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Ram Dass lived a full life and then some. His final statement is thorough and, yes, enlightening.

BEING RAM DASS

A comprehensive memoir from a famous but humble spiritual seeker.

Mention the name Ram Dass (1931-2019), and you’re likely to hear three words: Be Here Now. However, there’s much more to the man born Richard Alpert than his best-known book, as this posthumous memoir, co-written with Das, makes amply clear. Born just outside of Boston to an ambitious Jewish family, he quickly became a hungry spiritual seeker. He ran with fellow Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary, and together they became pioneers in hallucinogenic research. As he explains, psilocybin and LSD, which were legal when he began his studies, were a means of exploring other planes of consciousness, a rationale that didn’t keep him from getting fired for turning on an undergraduate student. One can imagine such a book by another author—say, Leary—as full of chest-puffing and war stories. Thankfully, on his road to enlightenment, Ram Dass also accumulated a good deal of humility. This comes across clearest in the sections that find him in India, where he became a disciple of the Hindu guru Maharaj-ji, who taught the young American pilgrim how to love and worship without using drugs—and gave him his new name, which means “servant of God.” “Turning toward Eastern spirituality was not just my inner evolution but part of a major cultural shift,” writes the author, who proves to be a steady guide to some heady events and trends, including the Harvard psychedelic tests, the communal living experiment in Millbrook, New York, the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, and the influx of Westerners flooding India in search of a higher state of being. Familiar names walk in, walk out, and often return: Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, and the members of the Grateful Dead.

Ram Dass lived a full life and then some. His final statement is thorough and, yes, enlightening.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Sounds True

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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