Very readable intrigue, bolstered by logic and calculations.



Latest in the authors’ ongoing study of the major Egyptian monuments at Giza (Voyages of the Pyramid Builders, 2003, etc.), which challenges the mainstream picture of civilization’s earliest days.

With diligence and patience, geologist Schoch (Mathematics and Science/Boston Univ.) and his writing partner, McNally, have produced some of the most entertaining and, in net, enlightening examples of what might be called advocacy science. One need know very little about ancient history or Egyptology to be drawn into their revisionist argument, which has its roots in Schoch’s observation that parts of the Great Sphinx show water weathering rather than the constant sandblasting of an essentially desert environment. From this observation, he initially concluded that the Sphinx must have been built when heavier rainfall was the norm in Egypt, several millennia earlier than the date traditionally assigned to its construction. Now he focuses on the Great Pyramid and its smaller relatives, also at Giza. Why, he wonders, was it built over a previous mound structure rather than on a flat bedrock site, which would have been far easier? Why is its base almost as perfectly square as even modern engineering could have made it? Why is it oriented to the cardinal compass points within a fraction of a degree? Could 100,000 men working 20 years with 20-ton blocks really have built what was not only the heaviest earthly structure but, until the Eiffel Tower, the tallest? And most importantly, why have no proven remains of any pharaoh, let alone those to whom the structures are attributed, ever been found in a Giza pyramid? The authors point out that the first available accounts of the Great Pyramid, by Greek historians, were removed from its actual inception by the same span of time as ours from the birth of Christ. His ideas on who may originally have built it, and when, follow a fascinating compendium of speculations (power plant? military Death Star?) by others, dutifully debunked.

Very readable intrigue, bolstered by logic and calculations.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-58542-405-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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 very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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