WHAT IS TRUE SUCCESS?

EXPLORING ANSWERS FROM THE TEACHINGS OF THE SEVENTH-CENTURY SAINT ALI BIN ABU TALIB. EXCERPTS FROM PEAK OF ELOQUENCE (NAHJUL BALAGHA)

An English-language collection of the sayings and lessons of an important Muslim teacher.

Ali bin Abu Talib was the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and the first male convert to Islam. In this book, Akhtar organizes Ali’s writings and teaching into subjects ranging from God, the world, the afterlife, justice and politics, among others. Given the scattered nature of Ali’s writings, this book may certainly serve as a handy sourcebook for those looking to his words for comfort and guidance. However, it is unclear who the intended audience is—it seems that Akhtar wants to introduce the well-known teacher to those unfamiliar with him, in which case such a reader would be better served by more encompassing context of Ali, his time period and his role in Islamic theology to supplement the existing short chapter introductions and numerous appendices with brief information about Ali’s life, sources and various references. There are lists of Ali’s quotes for ready reference, as well as the sayings of well-known figures about Ali, helping even the most unfamiliar reader at least piece together his importance. The wisdom offered in the book is valuable and inspiring, and Akhtar has obviously taken care to cultivate the sections and, according to the acknowledgements, consult with experts in the field. On the other hand, he seems to have paraphrased his book from an existing English translation, further muddying the book’s ultimate purpose and audience and calling into question the fidelity of his translation. Nevertheless, the content of the book—the theology and spirit of Ali—shines through in a clear, sincere way that is sure to inspire the reader even if it lends nothing new to their understanding. A helpful reference for those familiar with the topic; a compelling but confusing jumping-off point for those who wish to know more.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461014539

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

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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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