Far-reaching, erudite introduction to philosophy of religion without needless polemics.

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RELIGION, CULTURE, HISTORY

A PHILOSOPHICAL STUDY OF RELIGION

Brutus (Lines of Thinking in Aesthetics, 2012, etc.) delivers an impressive introduction to global religions and the urge to worship, from ancient history to today.

In his concise introduction, Brutus writes that this book is merely meant to provide “some background for a study of religion in culture and through history.” That may seem like a tall order, but Brutus succeeds in packing a lot of information into his concise, readable summaries, helpfully broken into sections. Writers of grand-scale history can get themselves into trouble with this sort of summarization, lopping off the nuances that don’t fit their theses; but Brutus avoids this trouble via his extensive knowledge and his lack of polemics. While there are times when the reader may wish to know more about a subject, a part of the pleasure here is Brutus’s wide-ranging examination of the etymology of certain terms in various languages; faith traditions (focusing on Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam); and various approaches to religion (from biology to game theory). Unlike some polemical theist and atheist writers, Brutus sets out with a more modest thesis, which comes out most clearly in his conclusion: Approaching religion from a philosophical and humble standpoint provides gratification in the search for knowledge rather than its assumption. (It’s no surprise that Brutus’ main models are the gadfly of Athens, Socrates, and the nondogmatic Buddha.) With such a broad view of the subject, readers may find certain topics more interesting than others, but without cluttering the text with footnotes, Brutus gives plenty of direction for finding out more about particular topics. Those looking for material to use in arguments against their theistic or atheistic friends and family are better off looking elsewhere, as Brutus’s book primarily addresses the act of critical inquiry itself. As he notes, everyone can do philosophy, and philosophy’s main goal is to be the servant of life. Brutus ends with a warm, personal depiction of this during his own travels in Jerusalem.

Far-reaching, erudite introduction to philosophy of religion without needless polemics.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1479109685

Page Count: 206

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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