A graceful and illuminating spiritual conversation between a well-known theologian and a cutting-edge scientist. Fox, an Episcopal priest and author of several books on spirituality (On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear, 1972, etc.), here engages in a unique conversation with Sheldrake (Seven Experiments That Could Change the World, 1995), a British scientist and former research fellow at Cambridge University. Their dialogue encompasses prayer, darkness, ecology, mysticism, and the soul; what emerges from their provocative insights is the sense that the gap between science and religion is perhaps not so wide as Western rationalism might have us believe. Both contend that Westerners have lost touch with their souls—that part of their being which links them to nature and the divine. Fox's contribution is somewhat more accessible than that of Sheldrake, who in criticizing the prevailing scientific worldview occasionally forgets that his readers may need that rationalist perspective explained before it can be thrown out of the window. Readers may also question ``morphic resonance,'' the controversial New Agetype theory that has made Sheldrake famous. He argues that through morphic resonance, ``if rats in Sheffield learn a new trick, rats all around the world should be able to learn it quicker just because it has been learned there.'' But the rest of the conversations are real gems. Both participants are lucid and creative in their approaches to hackneyed theological debates on worship, prayer, and meditation. Both share humbly and honestly from their personal experiences, often speaking anecdotally of the many remarkable people they have encountered in their careers. Fox also draws freely from the wisdom of past mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Theresa of Avila, and the effect is like magic. This is a book to be read under a shady tree when one has time to reflect and to enjoy the beauty of nature. (3 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48356-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996



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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