Although some of these pieces have a tired feel, there’s much here to enjoy and ponder.

A swan song from one of Europe’s great intellectuals.

After publishing numerous novels, criticism, essays, and so much more, Eco (Numero Zero, 2015, etc.) died in 2016 at the age of 84. Like a few others before him, including Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, among others, Eco proved that one could write for many audiences. Following up on two similar collections, this book contains more than 100 short opinion pieces originally published in L’Espresso magazine from 2000 to 2015. He calls them “reflections on aspects of this ‘liquid society’ of ours,” and they encompass the current crises facing countries across the world, a collapse of ideologies, and the rise of unbridled individualism. They are divided into 13 titled sections, including “From Stupidity to Folly.” Eco was no curmudgeon, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly—e.g., the “excess of stupidity is clogging the [internet] lines.” The author regularly discusses his dislike of cellphones; people “no longer talk face-to-face…no longer reflect on life and death, and instead talk obsessively, invariably with nothing to say.” There’s a distinct Italian lean to these pieces, so some travel better than others, but it’s not so much the information they convey as much as the intellect and thought processes of the conveyor. As Eco admits in one of the last pieces, “don’t take the things you have just read as pure gold.” In one piece, he discusses the Italian government selling off their Maserati cars; in another, the letters of Ian Fleming, who “was a master of style,” and James Joyce. We learn that Eco is a big fan of the “amiable universe” of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and that Art Spiegelman is a “genius,” Maus “one of the most important pieces of literature on the Holocaust.” Even when he’s apologizing for not writing prefaces for people’s books, Eco entertains with his intellect, humor, and insatiable curiosity.

Although some of these pieces have a tired feel, there’s much here to enjoy and ponder.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-97448-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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