Framed as an “autobiography” full of deliberate fictional creations, this life of Pragmatism’s founding genius is a breathtakingly original attempt to reinvent the dry habitudes of biography. Unfortunately, it is also an epic, perplexing failure. The first of an anticipated three volumes, this account takes us, in a jittering, wildly idiosyncratic way, through the first 28 years (childhood and schooling) of Peirce’s life. In the frame-tale manner so popular in the 19th-century novel, Ketner (Philosophy/Texas Tech Univ., A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy, not reviewed) has created a labyrinth of multiple narrations. First off, there is fictional interpolator Ike Eisenstaat, a writer of detective stories. Digging through a box that his wife, Betsey Darbey, inherited, he comes across Peirce’s fragmentary autobiography, which he then proceeds to flesh out with additional notes, anecdotes, commentary, etc. Then there are the explications of Peirce’s philosophy, provided by his centenarian student, LeRoi Wyttynys. The autobiography as such consists of Ketner’s clever, but impossibly fragmentary, compilation and distillation of autobiographical snippets from Peirce’s various writings. Peirce was one of the 19th century’s great minds; his influence on everything from philosophy to semiotics has been enormous. But he is not well served here. The general effect is confusion and tedium. Ketner knows his subject almost too well, forgetting that the general reader, especially given the complexity of Peirce’s thought, needs a more straightforward grounding, at least intermittently. The author does dig up some interesting tidbits, including a secret first marriage, and convincingly traces, as much as his disjointed structure allows, the early beginnings of Peirce’s ideas. But as much as one wants to salute this audacious project, Ketner’s style, sensibility, and methodology don—t rise to the occasion, begging the ultimate question, “Why?” (20 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8265-1313-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Vanderbilt Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


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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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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