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 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015



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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