Regrettably, this story of close-mindedness and redemption still resonates today.

The tale of a 16th-century genius who made the mistake of running afoul of John Calvin at the height of the Reformation in Geneva.

Adding a fourth title to their shelf of writings on the provenance of rare books, the Goldstones (Warmly Inscribed, 2001, etc.) here focus on Spaniard Michael Servetus’s Christianismi Restitutio (Christianity Restored). All copies of the book, including one chained to his leg, were supposed to be destroyed when Servetus was burned at the stake, on Calvin’s orders, after his intellectual enemy failed to browbeat him into accepting an alternate view of Protestantism. Servetus’s rejection of the Trinity first gained him the label of heretic in his early 20s when his other principal foe, the Inquisition, put a price on his head. The authors use Servetus’s career to give readers a snapshot of intellectual life during the 1500s. In a Europe whose civil authorities couldn’t easily track their own citizens, whose universities were exploding with debates over church doctrine, and whose printing presses sought to publish heretical books because they sold well, punchy but pious iconoclast Servetus was a representative man like no other. Besides going toe to toe with the giants of his day, he also discovered pulmonary circulation, the process by which the lungs supply oxygen to the blood, which is then moved throughout the body via the pumping of the heart. The passage meticulously describing this process is a throwaway in Christianismi Restitutio, but the authors argue that if Calvin hadn’t been so vengeful, Servetus might have eventually advertised his discovery and moved medicine forward by almost a century. We owe its survival to Unitarianism, the religion for which his work laid the foundations. Unitarians in Transylvania somehow retained a copy of Christianismi Restitutio, keeping Servetus’s spirit alive for centuries.

Regrettably, this story of close-mindedness and redemption still resonates today.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2002

ISBN: 0-7679-0836-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002



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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