A well-crafted portrait of a religious phenomenon, sure to be of wide interest.



A searching account of “a new entity: an ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement that attracts mainly non-Orthodox Jews.”

In 1993, writes Jerusalem Post correspondent Fishkoff, a young member of Mendel Schneerson’s Lubavitcher congregation approached her with a tale of the ailing rabbi’s final days and the efforts of his closest aides to combat “a dangerous messianic tendency that was fast gaining ground among the Rebbe’s followers.” She had never met a Hasid before, Fishkoff writes, and associated those ultra-orthodox Jews only with “Shabbos tables, dietary restrictions, and one-way conversations with God.” A few visits to Crown Heights, and thence to points removed (including the seemingly unlikely venue of Salt Lake City, where Lubavitchers are establishing a presence among curiously receptive Mormons, and Alaska, where the movement has found a similarly warm welcome), afforded her the more nuanced view that she brings to these pages. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement, established 250 years ago in Brooklyn, is perhaps the fastest-growing tendency in American Judaism, she writes, having dispatched more than 3,800 “emissary couples” around the world to bring Jews back to Judaism; among other things, Lubavitchers host Passover seders for backpackers in Katmandu, feeding as many as 1,500 at a time, and they maintain the “world’s first and largest Jewish web site, which gets millions of hits a year”). Favoring action over talk, the Lubavitchers also run schools, drug-recovery centers, and poverty-relief programs, enlisting the help of celebrities such as actor Jon Voight and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to further the cause. Although she rejects many points of Chabad-Lubavitch doctrine, Fishkoff writes of their work with a sympathetic eye. Still, she worries, along with other critics, that the movement will become denatured by the incorporation of so many hitherto nonobservant men and women “who don’t know the Hebrew prayers and who don’t eat kosher,” even as it continues to grow.

A well-crafted portrait of a religious phenomenon, sure to be of wide interest.

Pub Date: April 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-8052-4189-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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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