Watch for elements of Townsend’s well-framed argument at the 2008 Democratic Convention.

FAILING AMERICA’S FAITHFUL

HOW TODAY’S CHURCHES ARE MIXING GOD WITH POLITICS AND LOSING THEIR WAY

“Instead of emphasizing the fact that we are all children of God, faith in America now divides communities.” So charges Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy, who offers a faith-based platform for liberals.

The right gets religion wrong, and the left doesn’t get it at all, theologian Jim Wallis has observed. Townsend is proof to the contrary, a committed Catholic who despairs of the Church’s political leanings and who counters with an ethic of service to the poor and powerless. In a neat but too-brief analysis, she contrasts her father’s vision with that of Ronald Reagan, and by extension the liberal and conservative views of human nature. Asked by David Frost what people are put on earth for, RFK replied, “If you’ve made some contribution to someone else, to improve their life, and make their life a little more livable, a little more happy, I think that’s what you should be doing.” Reagan, by contrast, argued, “Each man must find his own salvation . . . every man to be what God intended him to be.” Townsend dismisses the latter view as justification for “an entire multimillion-dollar industry that treats God as little more than a self-help guru who helps you be all you can be,” and the notion of compassionate conservatism as “just another way to put the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” There is an appropriate role for religion and the religious in politics, Townsend argues, one that reconciles the liberating vision of the Founding Fathers with values born of faith, such as those contained in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum; the public, she reckons, is ready for just such a hybrid, even as rightist clergy and politicians have insisted that it’s a war of each against all out there, undermining “the sense of national unity and collective responsibility that has mattered so much throughout American history.”

Watch for elements of Townsend’s well-framed argument at the 2008 Democratic Convention.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-446-57715-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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