Struggles against racism, marital abuse and obesity yield life-lessons in this self-help manifesto.

Growing up as a mixed-race second-class citizen under South Africa’s apartheid regime gave the author plenty of obstacles to overcome, including an inferior education, job discrimination and the daily humiliation of pass laws. Equally rankling was her family’s membership in a strict Christian denomination—her father was a minister—that accepted white supremacy and sexism and imparted a dour worldview dripping with guilt and fear of hellfire. Worst of all was her 18-year marriage to a violent, sadistic man (another minister) who beat her in front of their daughters, raped her at knife-point and dunked her head in a vomit-filled toilet bowl. Mercuur’s account of violations both intimate and impersonal, and of the helplessness and depression they induced, is full of harrowing detail; readers will be moved by her perseverance—she rose to become a bank executive—and by her efforts to understand and forgive the injuries she suffered. The book falters when she tries to elaborate a philosophy from her travails. In long-winded, meandering, repetitive passages, Mercuur harps on a set of simplistic or vague principles: seek sustained improvement instead of mere change; think for yourself rather than accepting dogmas imposed by others; pitilessly search for truth, which can only be apprehended by “physical knowledge” gleaned from the five senses; take personal responsibility for everything that happens to you, racial oppression included. The practical focus of her creed is on weight loss, which she undertakes with the help of an old high-school flame who became her guru after her husband’s death; the regimen of “isolated muscle training” that he put her on constitutes the only concrete advice she has for readers. Alas, Mercuur’s obsession with fitness and appearance results in insights—“Who we are physically displays who we are spiritually”—that are dubious and uninspiring. A riveting biography weighed down by dull, superficial pensées.


Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-1439256305

Page Count: 232

Publisher: BookSurge

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2010

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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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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