Kerouac completists will have to have this, of course. Literary-minded students of Buddhism will find Hermann Hesse’s...

WAKE UP

A LIFE OF THE BUDDHA

A fan’s notes on the Awakened One.

Iconic Beat writer Kerouac, whose On the Road celebrated its 50th anniversary with suitable fanfare last year, took a modest interest in Buddhism while hanging out with Allen Ginsberg and dabbling in college in New York. Later in the 1950s, his studies became more serious, and he began to think of himself as a “dumbsaint bodhisattva” who, inclined to poverty and wandering, was a living embodiment of what Gautama, né Siddhartha, was up to back in the fifth century BCE. (It didn’t hurt the self-identification that Buddha “was a handsome young prince.”) This previously unpublished work is a rather indifferently written biography of the Buddha, largely cribbed from other sources—a notebook for Kerouac’s own studies, in other words, and apparently not something he was in a hurry to publish during his short but prolific lifetime. There are a few Kerouackian touches to the piece, as when the author instructs that Buddha “was no slob-like figure of mirth,” but instead “the Jesus Christ of India and almost all Asia.” Kerouac offers a few novelistic touches, sometimes to beautiful effect, as when he writes, “The groundmist of 3 A.M. rose with all the dolors of the world.” However, the overall narrative stance is matter-of-fact, encyclopedic and conventional, with a kind of didactic approach to dialogue, as when Buddha tells an Indian king, “Though your face has become wrinkled, in the perception of your eyes, there are no signs of age, no wrinkles. Then, wrinkles are the symbol of change, and the un-wrinkled is the symbol of the un-changing. That which is changing must suffer destruction, but the unchanging is free from deaths and rebirths.”

Kerouac completists will have to have this, of course. Literary-minded students of Buddhism will find Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha to be the more attractive introduction, and devotees will have had this story from many other sources, as Kerouac himself did.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01957-1

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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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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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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