A promising premise, but this godly space odyssey barely gets off the ground before it veers off course.



An exploration of the Muslim holy book that seeks to connect it with science, earthlings and extraterrestrials.

If, as recent science seems to suggest, we are not alone in the universe, did God then create just the Earth and its peoples, or did he create many earths and extraterrestrials under his dominion? That seems to be one of the main questions posed by this book, shakily translated from Urdu. The answer, according to Rahman’s interpretation of the Quran: Countless earths have been created through time and space and have hosted human populations in God’s unending, thankless quest to perfect humankind. Everything under and beyond the sun has a divine purpose, the author avers—even space voids. For believers and nonbelievers alike, Rahman raises interesting speculations. But his attempts to reconcile science and religion via excerpts from the Quran are unconvincing. He likens “faint voices” mentioned in the Quran to radio signals from distant planets. When the holy book states that God has “created the skies with pillars invisible to you,” it’s referring to gravity, he suggests. Drilling down through Rahman’s unclear prose, readers might strike up their own fascinating questions about the relation of science to religion, the science of religion and the religion of science. Unfortunately, the author explores few of these potentially fascinating paths and answers fewer questions convincingly. Rather, much of his book reworks all-too-familiar fire-and-brimstone ground. Lengthy screeds warn of the troubles in store for disbelievers, and Rahman makes the oft-heard case for the superiority of Islam over other religions. Choppy translation and turgid prose will stymie those searching these pages for a breezy sci-fi read or interplanetary escapade. Which is too bad, because the idea of the mind of God working through the eternities of the Quran’s “seven skies” and earths has a kind of poetic, hall-of-mirrors, infinitely mysterious appeal.

A promising premise, but this godly space odyssey barely gets off the ground before it veers off course.

Pub Date: April 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475052565

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2012

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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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