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

READ REVIEW

ALL IS CHANGE

THE TWO-THOUSAND-YEAR JOURNEY OF BUDDHISM TO THE WEST

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

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

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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