A thoughtful, bighearted book of inspirational stories.

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If This Is Heaven Show Me Hell

DEVOTIONS FOR THE REST OF US

Cates (The Doorway to Hope, 2015, etc.) offers a book of devotions for practical Christians.

For some people, Christianity can often feel like a belief system that’s suitable only for the sanitized world of Sunday church pews; elsewhere, where life’s problems are messier than those found in homilies, faith can seem less applicable. Cates attempts to remedy that here in a book of devotions for Christians who are already acquainted with the grit of the wider world. These pieces, he says, are “meant to startle the reader from complacency, creating dialogues with aspects of ourselves and those we love that are controversial. In doing so, they are also meant to begin the process of healing.” Divided into sections on “Love,” “Diversity,” “Morality,” “Hope,” and “Holy Days,” the devotions are intended to be read one per week throughout the year. Each contains a “dialogue” or story followed by a passage from Scripture and a concluding discussion section that ties them together. Cates draws the stories generally from his own life, including his work as a therapist for troubled adolescents. Many are anecdotes about various people whom he’s encountered, from domestic terrorists to Amish sewing-circle members to defrocked Catholic priests. Cates is a talented storyteller, and his dialogues often delve into strange and surprising places. It helps that he’s led a life that’s varied enough to include so many engaging scenarios; more impressive, however, is the way that Cates manages to tie his stories in with his thematic material, probing the liminal spaces in which faith, theology, and human flaws sit uneasily beside one another: “I once heard ‘Amazing Grace’ sung at a Klan rally,” he recalls in one devotion, “to accompany the burning of three crosses. It occurred to me that God does love these people, regardless. It also occurred to me that I’m awfully glad I’m not God.” Readers seeking a less dogmatic, more empathetic discussion of Christianity—one truly concerned with the downtrodden, the marginalized, the needy, and the dispossessed—will find much of interest here. He writes about “those who have slashed their own raw edges into the psyches and live with these scars,” and his audience will likely include those who are similarly marked.

A thoughtful, bighearted book of inspirational stories.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5151-5320-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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