A delicate delineation that invites a more intimate look at the sources.

A scholar’s sincere attempt to elucidate the true teachings of the Quran.

Eminently qualified to present the finer points of the Prophet Muhammad’s beliefs and teachings, Brown (Islamic Studies/Georgetown Univ. School of Foreign Service; Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, 2011, etc.) continually asserts the magnificent tradition of Islam yet can’t quite get around the well-known stumbling blocks—e.g., not allowing women to lead prayer and the concept of the martyrs’ multivirgin reward in heaven. Who speaks for Islam? The ulama, or the learned ones, and they have turned to three sources: first, the Quran, or the “unchanging record of God’s revealed words,” derived from oral teaching before being put into writing; then, the Hadith, or the sayings of the prophet, which have grown around the Quran and are more ambiguous, controversial and “amorphous”; and finally, the ideas of Sunni Islam (which Brown addresses rather than Shiite), or the collective consensus about law, ethics and dogma passed down for the generations of believers. Much like the mutable biblical canon, the Hadith corpus is contested, and scholars have declared many of them to be forgeries. What Brown does very well is underscore the cultural biases at work in denunciations of Islam—e.g., the Western perception of its excessive violence (jihad) and sexual perversion (the paradise of “72 virgins,” as well as the fact that Muhammad was in his 50s when he married the child bride Aisha, who was around the age of 10). The ulama, inheritors of classical learning, wrestled with reconciling reason and diversity with revelation, epitomized by the work of Shah Wali Allah, in the mid-18th-century Mughal Empire. Brown eloquently parses Islam’s rich interpretive tradition, but his nuanced sifting of meaning does not necessarily clarify or convince.

A delicate delineation that invites a more intimate look at the sources.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78074-420-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014



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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