Eudemonia Redemption

A self-described “ordinary—yet unique—man,” the unnamed narrator of Matar’s (Counselors Beyond Knowledge, 2013) first work of fiction, shares his perspective on living a happy life.

For more than 24 centuries, citizens in the nation of Eudemonia—an Aristotelian term meaning “happiness” or “human flourishing”—have made unprecedented cultural, political, and technological achievements thanks in part to their joy of living, which they are said to have inherited from ancient ancestors. Present-day Eudemonians, however, have lost that joie de vivre. As a result, birth rates are declining, making Eudemonia’s extinction imminent within the next 30 years. To prevent ceding the nation’s independence to nearby Humnesia in exchange for help repopulating, Eudemonia’s president, Sarah, has 10 days to rediscover what made previous Eudemonians so contented. She joins forces with a history of philosophy professor named Adam, who unearthed an ancient manuscript suggesting that a few people in every generation are capable of realizing the same secrets of happiness known by the ancient Eudemonians. This manuscript leads the duo to Matar’s narrator, who responds to Sarah and Adam’s myriad questions—“What makes you happy?”; “How many times have you failed in the past?”—by clarifying his stance on happiness. In the three-way dialogue that makes up the bulk of Matar’s novel, the narrator reiterates his core philosophy: happiness depends on distinguishing between illusions (concepts like ownership and freedom), which lead to misery, and truth, which leads to happiness. Some of his philosophy—that life is a free gift, that success loses meaning without failure—will strike a familiar chord with self-help readers. Other opinions are more provocative, such as the suggestion that humans only truly help one another unintentionally, because acts of charity come with the expectation (and illusion) of self-satisfaction. Though the novel has a fair share of intriguing ideas, Matar never anchors them in a compelling character. Ultimately, the book favors generalizations and platitudes—romantic love, like a vampire, “cannot survive as soon as it is exposed to the light of true love”—over intriguing yet too-brief glimpses into the narrator’s past: “My most happy moments occurred when I was living in a war-torn country.” A compelling premise hindered by a lack of new insights and too little character.


Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5058-1508-5

Page Count: 106

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 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 timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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