THE WISDOM OF THE SHIRE

A SHORT GUIDE TO A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE

A life-affirming, must-have morsel for Tolkien’s colossal fan base.

How to live long and prosper, Hobbit-style.

Tolkien fans breathlessly awaiting Peter Jackson’s upcoming three-part feature film will be pleasantly satiated with this self-help guide channeling the effervescent spirit and timeless morality of the much-loved Hobbit population. Playwright Smith calls Tolkien the original “alternate reality historian” and confesses to decorating his room as a boy in Hobbit-hole style. The author’s many comparisons between the “safe, warm, comfortable” facets of Hobbit life and contemporary reality lived outside Middle-earth are creative and satisfyingly good-natured. Smith issues challenges for readers to rediscover their inner artisan with handmade crafts and to appreciate the benefits of a good night’s sleep, invigorating exercise, monogamy, friendship, birthdays and “foraging” for farm-grown organic comfort foods. The author suggests that the Hobbits’ egalitarian society, courteous demeanor and simplistic, bucolic lifestyle are admirable and should be emulated. Interwoven throughout the text are factoids about Tolkien’s life as an outspoken youth, a soldier in World War I and the writer of a beloved body of work that began with a published poem in 1915 at age 23. The final chapter, though brief, pleasantly condenses Smith’s clever analogies and interpretive symbolism. The book also includes a humorous Hobbit test and practical instructions for creating a sustainable, “Hobbitish” vegetable garden.

A life-affirming, must-have morsel for Tolkien’s colossal fan base.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-02556-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

MASTERY

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Categories:

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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

Close Quickview