Deeply thoughtful essays on troubling and divisive cultural—and spiritual—issues.



A sober, passionate defense of Christian faith.

In these 17 essays, Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Robinson (Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Lila, 2014, etc.) returns to themes she considered most recently in her memoir, When I Was a Child I Read Books (2012): ethics, morality, reverence, and her own convictions as a Christian. “My Christology is high,” she writes, “in that I take Christ to be with God, and to be God. And I take it to be true that without him nothing was made that was made.” Much scientific thinking, she believes, draws conclusions from only a “radically partial model of reality” that excludes the marvelous and the improbable. She criticizes, for example, “the reductionist tendencies among neuroscientists” to propose a material model for the human mind; instead, she finds the soul “a valuable concept, a statement of the dignity of a human life and of the unutterable gravity of human action and experience.” Robinson is an astute critic of self-righteousness among some who identify as Christians: “a harshness, a bitterness, a crudeness, and a high-handedness” has entered political life, she maintains, causing some in the “religious monoculture” to be self-serving, self-congratulatory, and insular. This kind of American Christian identity, she sees, is “rooted in an instinctive tribalism” that incites resentment, rage, and bigotry. Contemporary America, she writes, “is full of fear,” but fear “is not a Christian habit of mind.” This fear “operates as an appetite or an addiction. You can never be safe enough.” Fear also leads to rash actions, such as increased gun sales, which are often justified by misreadings of the Second Amendment. As she notes, “gun sales stimulate gun sales—a splendid business model.” Besides offering close readings of biblical texts, Robinson also considers the works of Calvin, Shakespeare, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and William James.

Deeply thoughtful essays on troubling and divisive cultural—and spiritual—issues.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29847-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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