THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED AND BEYOND

SPIRITUAL GROWTH IN AN AGE OF ANXIETY

Peck's latest offering is the final installment of his ``Road Less Traveled'' trilogy (The Road Less Traveled, 1978, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, 1993) and a synthesis of his thinking to date. Is there a link between personal growth, spirituality, and basic mental health? Peck has spent much of his adult life arguing that such a link exists and struggling with the more difficult task of describing it. In this new work he focuses not on health but on its absence, asserting that many forms of human evil can be traced to a failure to face up to the challenge of thinking for ourselves. Confronted by life's complexities, we fall back on stereotypes in the way that we see things and treat each other. Peck goes on to argue that we must cultivate the ability to think clearly, as well as a healthy love of self (and an awareness of our own mortality), if we are not to be swept up in damaging group-driven behavior. He criticizes the denial of God and the human soul in many circles, not least by psychiatrists and the helping professions generally, as instances of simplistic thinking. As in The Road Less Traveled, Peck warns that, contrary to what our culture tells us, difficulty and pain are unavoidable ingredients of the process of personal growth. However, he now believes that his earlier stance in favor of traditional American individualism needs to be amplified by an awareness of our common interdependence and the notion of community. Peck speaks from his own personal and professional experience as a psychiatrist. This gives his writing a powerful existential quality; yet together with his habit of frequently quoting from his own books, it sometimes makes him sound pompous, as if he alone has honestly wrestled with the perennial philosophical and theological issues he raises. Generally balanced, though, and challenging; sure to appeal to Peck's large following. (Literary Guild alternate selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81314-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

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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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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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