Stimulating and provocative.

A collection of essays by the Polish philosopher Kolakowski (1927–2009), viewed by some as one of the intellectual progenitors of Poland's Solidarity movement.

Respected internationally for his opposition to Marxism, as reflected in his three-volume study Main Currents of Marxism, the author was expelled from Poland's United Workers' Party in 1956 and fired from his philosophy chair at the University of Warsaw in 1968. The present collection has been assembled  and edited by his widow and collaborator, Agnieszka Kolakowska, and includes some essays published for the first time in English. There are three sections. The first part includes selected writings on Marxism, communism, socialism, totalitarianism and ideology in general. In her introduction, Kolakowska explains their current relevance because of Kolakowski's warning that “the spectre is stronger than the spells we cast on it. It might come back to life.” In the second part, the author focuses on religion, and most of the pieces have not appeared in English before. In the third part, Kolakowski takes up the philosophical issues that preoccupied him for much of his life. More than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, fears about the revival of Marxism may seem anachronistic, but Kolakowski's views on God, religion and truth show his thinking about totalitarian ideology and its relation to Marxism in a fresh light. He addresses common features of Marxism, Nazism and Mussolini's brand of fascism, attempting to identify what was common and particular to the three, as well as how the Holocaust and Stalin's gulag system can be compared. As a believer in God and a humanist, he affirms “the main ideas of the Enlightenment [which]… have their historical origins in Christianity.”

Stimulating and provocative.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-465-08099-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012



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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