Readers familiar with Merton and Suzuki will know most of this story. For others, though, this is a solid overview.



A leisurely survey of Buddhist encounters with the West, for better or worse.

Much of the literature on that matter has come from Buddhists such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Catholics such as Thomas Merton. Sutin (Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, 2000, etc.) professes no religious attachment, and his emphasis is historical rather than doctrinal. He begins with the age of Alexander the Great, when Greeks were exposed to Buddhist teachings during the short-lived conquest of northwestern India; Aristotle even asked Alexander to send a “gymnosophist” back to Greece for a conversation, though a Buddhist met a trio of Greek thinkers with the impatient remark, “It is impossible to explain philosophical doctrines through the medium of three interpreters who understand nothing we say any more than the vulgar; it is like asking water to flow through pure mud.” Such incomprehension marked subsequent East-West encounters, though in time, Nestorian Christians would live alongside Buddhists in Asia, giving each a better idea of the other’s beliefs. Sutin examines the controversial view that Buddhist thought influenced the Gnostics (and thus, perhaps, early Christianity), for which there is scant evidence for or against, before moving on to the better-documented travels of Christian missionaries in Asia; his narrative is peopled by memorable characters such as the Japanese Buddhist monk who converted to Catholicism only to denounce it, “making him an apostate, perhaps the first in world history, of both Buddhism and Christianity.” Later, he provides a fine brief on the flim-flam artist who did much to introduce sort-of-Tibetan doctrine to the West, T. Lobsang Rampa. Sutin reaches familiar ground when he turns to the influence of Buddhism on the American transcendentalists and, later, the Beats and their followers, more fluently chronicled in Rick Fields’s How the Swans Came to the Lake (1992).

Readers familiar with Merton and Suzuki will know most of this story. For others, though, this is a solid overview.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-74156-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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 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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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

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