Students of psychology and philosophy will find much value in Boyer’s treatise, but it will probably strike most general...

READ REVIEW

RELIGION EXPLAINED

THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGINS OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

A roundabout consideration of why humans turn to otherworldly thoughts.

Boyer (Collective Memory and Individual Memory/Washington Univ.) is fluent in several disciplines that touch on the cognitive sciences, including physical anthropology and evolutionary psychology. All of these disciplines, along with classical philosophy, come to bear on his account of why humans in every place and at every time have found it necessary or desirable to think of gods, the afterlife, and other extraordinary matters, building “complex supernatural constructs out of very simple conceptual bricks” (such as the recognition that all mortal beings die). While recognizing that religious beliefs vary widely within and between cultures and individuals, the author suggests that we hold them largely because we can; that is, all humans possess “the mind it takes to have religion,” a mind that uses processes such as “decoupling” and “inference systems” to arrive at what Boyer considers to be eminently practical reasoning about the meaning of life (reasoning that can sometimes involve inventing cosmic explanations for the mysteries and problems the mind confronts). Regrettably, the author is rarely straightforward in making such arguments, preferring instead to linger over (and then demolish) straw-man arguments and to show the flaws in other influential theories of religion (such as those of William James). The noted biologist E.O. Wilson gives a more concise and better argued account of the evolutionary basis of religion—if one that seems calculated to offend believers, as Boyer’s is not—in Consilience (1998). For all that, Boyer’s account has many merits, showing how the mind works by means of analogy, trial and error, and sheer speculation (the more counterintuitive the better) in the service of helping us to become comfortable inside our own skins and sleep well at night.

Students of psychology and philosophy will find much value in Boyer’s treatise, but it will probably strike most general readers as dry and daunting.

Pub Date: June 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-465-00695-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more