Changing attitudes is our most difficult task. Sanders, an insightful guide, knows we have no choice but to try.

THE WAY OF IMAGINATION

ESSAYS

A profoundly humane essayist, novelist, and nature writer finds glimmers of hope for a world in peril.

Sanders, the author of more than 20 books of fiction and nonfiction, investigates our unprecedented rate and scale of environmental destruction, species extinction, and cultural disintegration, locating some familiar culprits: the fundamental scaffolding of capitalism, unrestrained (and unsustainable) growth, wealth defined only in terms of money, grotesque income inequities, overpopulation, squandered resources, and an utter lack of political will to do anything substantive about it. He explores what drives our risky behaviors and antiquated mindsets, painting a grim panorama of human follies and their consequences. However urgent, none of this is terribly original, nor does Sanders, who is often intensely personal, claim it to be. What sets this collection apart is the manner in which he connects these crises and, even in his most despairing moments, assays our capacity for change. One may argue that Sanders overestimates the power of art (literature especially) to sway the multitudes—particularly the comfortable denizens of developed nations—when history shows that the arts have exerted comparatively little direct influence on human actions. The author is no Pollyanna, but he puts his trust in our individual and collective imagination—not just science or the more benign tenets of religion—to conceive of and walk a more constructive path. “Imagination breaks the shell of the status quo,” he writes, “summoning up objects that do not yet exist, actions that no one has yet performed, and wiser ways of living that have yet to be realized….Time and again, bold acts of imagination have given rise to profound shifts in our ethical views and social practices.” Given his focus on domestic foolhardiness, some will criticize Sanders’ exhortations as anti-American or socialistic, but this is a narrow, misguided view.

Changing attitudes is our most difficult task. Sanders, an insightful guide, knows we have no choice but to try.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64009-365-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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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