A hodgepodge of theocracy and occultism.

OCCULT AMERICA

THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOW MYSTICISM SHAPED OUR NATION

Haphazardly assembled history on the genesis of spirituality and mysticism and its impact on American culture.

Tarcher/Penguin editor in chief and metaphysical enthusiast Horowitz charts the movement of mystical philosophies from their origins in the late 1600s. He begins with young mystic Johannes Kelpius who fled his war-torn German homeland for America, a reputedly safe haven from Old World intolerance for free-thinking people like himself who believed in “breakaway faiths” such as Mormonism and Christian Science. But it was the faction known as the “occult” that most closely unified radical communitarians like Kelpius. Seeking to identify the “mystical doorways of realization and secret ways of knowing,” Horowitz asserts that occultism brought forth a revolutionized thought process but concurrently generated a newfound fear in the unseen and the unknown among nonbelievers. The Shakers, having laid ground in central and western New York State in the late 1700s, created a sanctuary for folk religions and their evangelism. Self-proclaimed prophets sought out angels to deliver divine guidance as the freemasonry brotherhood prospered alongside mesmerists and seers. This gave rise to the popularity of Mary Todd Lincoln and a host of politically fueled Spiritualists. The astounding sales of Ouija boards, the rise of the New Thought movement, media evangelist Frank B. Robinson’s faith sensation Psychiana and New Age psychic healer Edgar Cayce all precipitated the negative criticism occultism received as it was blamed for everything from world conspiracy theories to Nazi fascism. Horowitz confines his research to decades far removed from contemporary times; those interested in the role of modern mysticism should look elsewhere. Though occasionally intriguing, the disorganized dissemination of information amounts to a mishmash of dates and occurrences within chapters rather than a uniform chronicle.

A hodgepodge of theocracy and occultism.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-553-80675-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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