An impressive compendium with a sense of shared discovery.

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AN END TO SUFFERING

THE BUDDHA IN THE WORLD

The life of the historical Buddha, his legacy, and his enduring relevance.

Indian-born novelist Mishra (The Romantics, 2000) begins in a secluded Himalayan valley with little more than an impulse: he wants to write about Siddartha Gautama (ca. 563–483 b.c.e.) but needs to know more. The quest evolves into a personal pilgrimage. The twist: actually visiting the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, or trekking to other long-forgotten and ignored sacred sites in his native northern India, turns out to be not all that evocative of the pampered princeling who renounced material comforts to seek enlightenment. More resonant, the author finds, is his cumulative impact on Western thinkers in the modern era. Neatly subsumed into the Hindu pantheon eons ago by India’s threatened Brahmins, edged out of ancient China by the great wave of Confucian ideas, the Buddha bobs up again with Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, et al., in a world facing the great conflagrations of the 20th century. Suffering, after all, was his bag—as Allen Ginsberg surely must have put it—but it’s still been an impressive revival, Mishra proposes, for someone who apparently wrote nothing down and may not even have been literate, about whom far less is known for certain than either the historical Jesus or Mohammed. Writing flatly and unemotionally, more as an intellectual admirer than a disciple, the author does manage to gather up and fit together a lot of Buddhist lore and codified principles, including a range of variations in worship among directly surviving enclaves from Tibet to Southeast Asia. The Enlightened One’s supposed last words alone, rendered somewhat inelegantly here as “all conditioned things are subject to decay, strive on untiringly,” probably contain enough mystery to keep scholars and disciples delving for centuries more.

An impressive compendium with a sense of shared discovery.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-374-14836-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

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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