A well-told memoir that strikes a taut balance between adventure and spiritual meditation.

The Depth of Grace

FINDING HOPE AT ROCK BOTTOM

A man pulls himself out of a life of crime and drug addiction after a conversion to Christianity in this debut memoir.

In this action-packed autobiography, Haley fights, drinks and spends most of his youth getting into trouble. After spending his childhood witnessing abuse and alcoholism in his family, he learned to be a tough kid, and he spent most of his time with other tough kids. The thing that set him apart was his commitment to fighting for underdogs; he had no problem joining a brawl, but he always backed the weaker fighters. In most of Haley’s stories, though, readers can see that the author was the underdog in his own life; each time he fights his way out of addiction, for example, something happens to pull him back under. He’s drawn to religion early—his stepmother held family séances, and he describes an encounter with a ghost that triggered his exploration of spirituality—but it isn’t until his best friend dies of an overdose that he fully dedicates himself to a clean lifestyle and turns his back on drugs and violence. Before that moment, readers follow Haley to a deep-sea diving school, where students spend their nights playing games of quarters, drinking fifths of rum, and driving aimlessly and recklessly through the night; in Louisiana, he cements his dangerous reputation by fighting a professional kickboxer; and in a small town in Mexico, he comes face to face with real poverty while searching for Xanax. Haley alternates between the memoir and “Rest Stops” where he meditates on passages from the Bible and relates them to the events of his life. His conversational writing style works well in two ways: The wild tales of his life make the reader feel like an old friend, swapping stories in a bar; the overtly religious sections, however, have a confessional feel, and that bar the reader was sitting in transforms into a church basement. It’s a sophisticated way to handle the story and lends depth to both threads.

A well-told memoir that strikes a taut balance between adventure and spiritual meditation.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-1449710477

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2013

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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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