HERMITS

THE INSIGHTS OF SOLITUDE

A lively, vivid, and moving history of hermits, religious and secular, and the instincts that drove them to embrace solitude. France (The Rape of Egypt, not reviewed), deeply attracted to the solitary life himself, began his investigation because he wondered ``if solitude confers insights not available to society.'' He traces the origins of a belief in isolation as part of a meditative life to China in the sixth century b.c., when the newly emergent faith of Taoism taught that ``it is by withdrawing rather than by asserting ourselves, through retreat rather than pursuit . . . that we acquire wisdom.'' This belief was similar to the ideas of the Desert Fathers, devout Christians who, in the centuries immediately after the rise of that faith, retreated to harsh landscapes well away from society, where they could wrestle with the meaning of their faith and the stubborn appeals of the flesh. France devotes a chapter to the Russian startsy, revered spiritual figures who spent years apart from society in an attempt to attain serenity—but who then often rejoined society to share what they had learned of the deeper instincts of faith. There are studies of, among others, Henry David Thoreau, the Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna, and Thomas Merton, whose writings offer a contemporary insight into ``the nature of solitude, its risks and its benefits.'' The book concludes with a chapter on the poet Robert Lax, who has lived a largely solitary, reflective life on the Greek island of Patmos for four decades. Writing in a prose of great clarity, and drawing heavily on the precise, powerful reflections of solitaries and religious hermits, France offers a succinct survey of the forces that have drieven men and women to separate themselves from society to pursue their faith, and argues persuasively that solitude still can, in our relentlessly crowded, anxious, hustling age, offer unique spiritual benefits and insights. (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate/Quality Paperback Book Club selection)

Pub Date: July 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-15546-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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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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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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