Witty and engaging, this book simultaneously celebrates and challenges spiritual traditions.

WHEN GOD ISN'T GREEN

A WORLD-WIDE JOURNEY TO PLACES WHERE RELIGIOUS PRACTICE AND ENVIRONMENTALISM COLLIDE

In this evenhanded book, Wexler (Boston Univ. School of Law; Tuttle in the Balance, 2015, etc.) chronicles his travels around the world in search of spiritual practices that threaten environmental stewardship.

As a law professor, the author approaches his subjects with clinical curiosity. Is it appropriate for Inuit villagers to hunt whales and eat their blubber, given that whales are so endangered? Should Native Americans be allowed to use bald eagle feathers, when the species teeters on extinction? Wexler is a self-described atheist and environmentalist, but he is remarkably sympathetic to worshippers and their age-old rituals. During a trip to India, he watched thousands of Hindus toss giant plaster sculptures of Ganesh into the sea. When he attended an eco-friendly alternative to the festival, he felt torn. “I wondered, not for the last time during my travels,” he writes, “whether the highly controlled, largely sterile atmosphere that the environmentalists had set up was really compatible with the vibrant religious practices of the fervent believers.” Wexler’s prose is clear and respectful, and he avoids both the shrill anger of a radical and the dry academic language of the law school classroom. He combines prescient legal anecdotes with self-effacing humor, such as when he brought a small plastic fork to carve a hunk of whale meat. Some issues are surprising, such as the widespread burning of palm fronds during Palm Sunday, which has caused devastating repercussions in the rain forests of Central America. Sometimes, the solutions are equally surprising: the National Eagle Repository collects dead birds, most of which have been killed by accident, and supplies them to Native American spiritual leaders. The book’s only major weakness is its brevity: the cover promises a “world-wide journey,” but the author focuses mostly on Asian and indigenous American peoples. One wishes he had spent more time in Europe and Africa, where his on-the-ground observations would have brought further local controversies to life.

Witty and engaging, this book simultaneously celebrates and challenges spiritual traditions.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0192-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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 very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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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