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by Jacob Needleman

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1991
ISBN: 0-385-26241-8
Publisher: Doubleday

 In previous work, dealing with apparently evermore earthly concerns, Needleman (Philosophy/San Francisco State) has dug for the spiritual roots of Christianity (Lost Christianity, 1980), philosophy (The Heart of Philosophy, 1982), and medicine (The Way of the Physician, 1985). Now, he tackles mammon itself--in a genuinely innovative study of the relationship between money and the spiritual life. As before, Needleman uses anecdote and idea-driven drama to illustrate his argument--a welcome technique here, since his thinking is complex, sometimes difficult. The frame in this case is a one-day seminar he gave on money and meaning--allowing him to employ two characters, Bill and Alyssa (``fictionalized distillations of numerous rich exchanges with my students''), who act, more or less, as Phaedo or Meno to his Socrates. Bill, though a multimillionaire, understands neither money nor life; Alyssa, an artist-turned-accountant, has a partial grasp of both. The two listen and question as Needleman--with reference to the Bible (e.g., a drawn-out retelling of the legend of Solomon) and the ideas of Weber, the Sufis, Gurdjieff, and others--traces what he sees as the devolution of money from its ancient balanced purpose of organizing mundane affairs to its present lock on our lives. We are obsessed with money, Needleman says, yet ``we don't take money seriously enough''--that is, we fail to give it its proper place. This is the heart of his brief: that humanity was created to dwell in ``two worlds''--that of the spirit and that of the mundane--and that only by fully mastering the mundane, in its primary manifestation of money, can we discern that which properly belongs to the spirit. The idea manifests itself in action as Needleman experiences a spiritual breakthrough in turning down Bill's whimsical gift to him of a half-million in gold. Dynamic philosophy that opens up a whole new way of looking at the financial demands of life. Needleman's best and most important book.