In all, more patent than potent.

An eminent Catholic historian (History Emeritus/Notre Dame Univ.) tries with mixed results to examine the ways American culture and Catholicism have affected one another.

Dolan (The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present, not reviewed) is no prose stylist. His language is conventional, predictable, even pedantic and banal. Clichés are frequent, and so are dull quotations from sectarian authorities. But despite these impediments, the author provides a useful outline of the story of Catholicism in America. From the earliest pages, he establishes the central conflict between what he calls the “republican” and “monarchical” models of church authority and organization. He shows how these models have gone in and out of fashion, and he can’t hide his regret that the latter, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II (for whom Dolan appears to have little professional regard), is now ascendant. (A powerful postscript, written as news of the current sex-abuse scandal is emerging, reveals his belief that the church must permit women and married men to become priests.) Dolan examines a number of cultural issues that have greatly affected the status and role of the church in America, including immigration, wars, women’s liberation, civil rights, public education, church-and-state conflicts, and the economy. In his most engaging section, covering the past 40 years, he reveals his great admiration for John XXIII and his disdain for the conservative, authoritarian policies of the current pontiff. He does a good job, as well, of showing how Hispanic and black Catholics have affected the church as a whole. Although he addresses abortion and birth control, he does not point a way toward any resolution of these contentious issues.

In all, more patent than potent.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-19-506926-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002



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


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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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