This ambitious book’s unique structure offers some unusual, intriguing moments.

A writer tries to answer all of life’s mysteries by having a Socratic dialogue with God in this debut philosophical work.  

Bagisbayev begins his broad examination of human life with an equally broad list of questions. Perhaps the most important ones are: “Why do we have so many moral rules....[W]ho invents the rules and why should I comply?” For the author, the answer to these and many other deep queries can be found by unifying different scientific and theoretical approaches to human behavior. To that end, he constructs what he calls a “neither scientific nor anti-scientific...neither theological nor atheistic” scenario—specifically, a dialogue in which a fictional protagonist speaks directly with God every morning, allowing the deity to prod him into new ways of thinking. This dialogue addresses three principal notions: “The Law of Gene Preservation,” “The Law of Freedom of Choice,” and finally, “The Law of Humandynamics,” which says that freedom of choice increases over time. Bagisbayev’s protagonist addresses thorny issues of history and politics while God gently encourages his thesis that everything can be understood as extensions of nature’s physical laws. The book includes references to real-world scholars and studies throughout, but its real focus is using logic to connect abstract concepts to their real-world incarnations. As translated from the original Russian by Joanna Dobson, the conversations between God and the protagonist rely heavily on wordplay, engaging rhetorical strategies, and a dry sense of humor that helps to ground the lofty subject matter: for example, when the protagonist wants to investigate the origin of numbers, God wryly asks, “Are you going to teach me to count?” At times, though, the book’s incredible breadth overshadows its engaging arguments and funny moments, often leaving readers with more questions. It’s most focused and purposeful when Bagisbayev builds on a specific theme, such as the disparities between ancient religions and contemporary morality.

This ambitious book’s unique structure offers some unusual, intriguing moments.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5372-7122-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017



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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