Critical reading not only for those who want to improve the world, but also for those who think we shouldn’t bother.

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SPEAKING OF ETHICS

LIVING A HUMANIST LIFE

This collection of essays, taken from talks given by the author to Ethical Culture audiences over a 35-year span, explores the philosophy and history of ethics.

Chuman (Why the Ethical Movement Is so Small and What We Can Do About It, 1988) has been a pillar of the Ethical Culture movement for nearly five decades. This diverse collection introduces lay readers to what it means to be ethical and humanistic and how this moral stance differs from those based purely on reason or religion. After establishing that an ethical person “recognizes the importance of moral values and intends to act on them,” Chuman’s book breaks into four sections: “Ethics in Private Life,” which discusses subjects pertinent to the individual, such as sin and the pursuit of happiness; “Public Questions,” featuring topics one encounters in public life and how to address them, such as politics and the criticism of religion; “Humanist Heroes,” a survey of freethinkers throughout history, including Spinoza and the Founding Fathers; and “Interpretations of Ethical Culture,” which details the movement’s facets, from its spiritual tolerance to the value of reason. Throughout, Chuman uses his rigorous intellect—and savvy as a lecturer—to challenge dangerous suppositions, never backing away from difficult questions. In “A Humanist Looks at Sin,” he brings startling lucidity to the argument: “The problem of the notion of sin is that it makes a fetish and a celebration out of a particular aspect of human experience,” he says. “It seizes upon and dogmatizes pessimism.” And Chuman succeeds in maintaining a conversational tone; he never rants or condescends, even when covering basic ideas. For example, “The giving of myself in the effort to help another, not simply with transitory assistance, but in a way which leads toward his or her growth and greater actualization, is what I mean by caring.” Further into the collection, he delves into more fine-grained discussions, such as the problem with extreme secularism, which reward readers not only with provocative displays of reasoning, but with electrifying insights: “We are creatures of reason, to be sure….But our humanity extends far more broadly than our reason does.”

Critical reading not only for those who want to improve the world, but also for those who think we shouldn’t bother.

Pub Date: March 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492804468

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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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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