A generous, involving study of how ancient stargazing gave rise to many of the tenets of human civilization.

THE CULTURE OF ASTRONOMY

ORIGIN OF NUMBER, GEOMETRY, SCIENCE, LAW, AND RELIGION

Dietrich provides a wide-ranging study of ancient astronomies.

In this densely packed study, Dietrich (Origin of Culture, 2005) tells his readers, “Many great scholars and astronomers have agreed that mathematics, geometry, and astronomy are the common language of humankind,” and in these pages, he attempts to lay out a grammar of that common language. In 10 fast-paced, well-illustrated chapters, the guide ranges across ancient and prehistoric human culture, from the designs of temples in Angkor Wat and Tikal to the commonalities of origin myths in ancient Greek, Hebrew and Egyptian literatures. Dietrich contends that astronomical concepts and applications formed the foundation of the ancient cultures he studies. It’s a thought-provoking thesis, made all the more provocative by some of the author’s claims, such as that “multiple underground water spirals and aquifers” gave impetus to the building of such disparate sacred places as Stonehenge, Karnak, Giza, the Temple Mount at Jerusalem and Tenochtitlan. More troubling for some readers will be Dietrich’s casual pronouncements: “The universe works because everything was set in motion at once, allowing everything to adjust, conform, coordinate with everything else.” He tells us at one point, “The universe is traveling toward perfect numbers and perfect harmony.” This is a bit overreaching; ancient cosmologies may talk about perfect harmony, but it plays little part in modern physics. That study is nevertheless expertly done, thanks to the author’s convincingly comprehensive view, which smoothly encompasses a great deal of fascinating information and presents ancient cosmological knowledge in accessible terms.

A generous, involving study of how ancient stargazing gave rise to many of the tenets of human civilization.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1935098751

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Bascom Hill Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2013

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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