A scattershot introduction to Christianity for the skeptical.



A personal look at living through Jesus.

Poet and biographer Parini (English and Creative Writing/Middlebury Coll.; Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal, 2015, etc.) provides a slim yet dense volume on what he calls “the way of Jesus.” In this attempt to describe the modern life of faith and convince others of its worthiness, the author often falls short. Despite being broken into four distinct chapters, the book is awkwardly structured. Parini begins by telling the story of his faith life, including the usual moments of falling away and a healthy dose of skepticism. The author finally found comfort in modern, liberal Christian theology, and he promotes a “mythic view” of Christianity, which dismisses questions of factual truth and literalism, focusing instead on the larger and more universal truths to be found in Scripture. With this view established, Parini examines the various components of the Christian faith, ranging from the Old and New Testaments to the incarnation. He rejects salvation and resurrection as traditionally understood, arguing instead that Jesus taught “Resurrection Thinking,” an ongoing personal renewal. The author moves on to describe the church year from an Anglo-Catholic perspective, and he concludes with a chapter heavily laden with wisdom from T.S. Eliot. As for “the way of Jesus,” Parini uses the term widely and defines it in various ways, as “a road,” a move toward transformation, “the story of Incarnation,” and “a way of life.” The author offers a view of Christianity that many readers may find difficult to accept. Steeped in tradition, established prayers, and even the use of rosaries, at the same time it is vague, open-ended, and personalized. “Is Jesus God?” the author asks at one point; “Yes and no,” is his answer. Parini presents Christianity as a way of life but not as a path toward truth.

A scattershot introduction to Christianity for the skeptical.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8070-4724-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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 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 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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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