THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

THE LIFE STORIES AND WISDOM OF THE GREAT SPIRITUAL MASTERS OF TIBET

A broad sampling of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom, as filtered through the ages. With spiritual-elder juices running through her system after she finished a book on Native American sagacity, Johnson (The Book of Elders, 1994) went in search of the purveyors of ancient Tibetan insight. She traveled from Ladakh to Palm Beach, returning with these singular interviews shaped as autobiographical vignettes. She spoke with all manner of Tibetan ``elder'' (by which she refers not to age, but to ``state of attainment''): oracles, hermits, lamas, scholars, nuns, astrologers, the tailor to the Dalai Lama. She gathered much material on Tibetan Buddhism, its strivings for compassion and kindness, its appreciation of impermanence and karma—little new for anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the philosophy. So turn to the remembrances of China's 1959 occupation of Tibet and subsequent intrusions on Tibetan ways for the most absorbing episodes of the book: the period of sizing up, then full-scale invasion, the flight of Tibetans to India and from there to the four corners, the Red Guard years, the fabric of daily life torn to ribbons (though failure to mention the Lhasa uprising of a few years back makes one wonder if the exiles are too far removed from recent political events). A newcomer to all this strangeness—clairvoyance and dreamscapes and sacred caves—Johnson gets unconvincingly swept away at times (meeting the Dalai Lama, she is ``filled with a feeling of lightness, of time suspended, and being fully present and alive at the moment''), then thankfully leavens the epiphanies with neat comic touches, such as the autographed picture of Richard Gere alongside an ET doll she stumbles across in a Himalayan monk's house. Separating wheat from chaff can be tiresome, but buried here are interesting nuggets of history and glimpses into the childhoods of Tibetan luminaries. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 16, 1996

ISBN: 1-57322-023-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1996

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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 author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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