An erudite opus demanding substantial patience, intelligence and education from its readers.

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THE AGE OF ATHEISTS

HOW WE HAVE SOUGHT TO LIVE SINCE THE DEATH OF GOD

Journalist and intellectual historian Watson (The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New, 2012, etc.) analyzes what people have done to supplant or supplement religion since Nietzsche declared the death of God in the late 19th century.

The author begins with the horror of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (religion out of control) and returns to Rushdie some 500 pages later. In between is a rich mixture of cultural, intellectual, political and religious history that demands much of readers and is in ways a multilayered chronicle of the past 140 years. But a basic question underlies all: What do we do without God? Watson looks initially at the effects Nietzsche had on the arts (Thomas Mann and Isadora Duncan write and dance through this section) and then looks at American thinkers including Emerson William James, John Dewey and George Santayana. Poets and artists of various stripes also figure prominently (Rimbaud, Cézanne, Bergson), and Freud makes an early appearance as well (he returns periodically). Playwrights are next (Strindberg, Shaw, Chekhov most prominently) before he devotes a chapter to the impressionist painters and their successors. In a solid chapter about the power of desire, a topic to which he returns, Watson explores the works of Gide, Henry James, Wells and Proust. And on the author goes, moving seamlessly from literature to art, philosophy, psychology, political movements, world war, drama and popular culture (the Doors, Dylan, etc.). Watson blasts the world’s religions for their failures during the Holocaust, but he doesn’t have a lot to say about music (a little bit about Charlie Parker and bebop). He delivers a sturdy chapter on the works of today’s scientific atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Pinker) and ends with praise and analysis of Ronald Dworkin.

An erudite opus demanding substantial patience, intelligence and education from its readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5431-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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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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