A wide-ranging, entirely commendable explication of the humanist worldview.

God, Religion, Science, Nature, Culture, and Morality

A thoroughgoing examination of life, the universe, and everything.

In a series of conversations between three anonymous, retired university professors (“Yemant and friends”), this remarkable debut discusses some of the deepest, widest-reaching subjects of human existence, including the Big Bang and the development of cosmology, the formation of galaxies and solar systems, the development of life on Earth from the first multicellular organisms, and the dominance of humans over the world. It addresses the births of language, culture, agriculture, and a dozen other large-scale topics, drawing on the latest consensus of scientific understanding and always emphasizing clarity and comprehensibility. The three friends complement one another’s accounts of the scientific fields they cover, often requesting slower, more careful explanations, and the result is unfailingly approachable and engaging. It later evolves into a long, detailed discussion of religion—its causes, manifestations, and claims of truth, even in scientific realms. Yemant and his friends come down firmly but gently on the side of scientific rationalism, especially on questions of evolution. “Biology is a science,” they agree, “and, as far as the evolution of life is concerned, should not be muddled with morality.” (They view what they see as a shameful, widespread rejection of evolutionary biology by many Americans as a product of religious indoctrination and “a monumental failure of science education.”) The book also looks into the forms and origins of religions, the mindset and psychological makeup of religious believers, and the “terrifying legacy” of religiously motivated conflicts throughout history. The end result of all this discussion is a comprehensively rational, humanist worldview that’s nevertheless sympathetic to the human yearning for spirituality. The three friends eventually work their way to a balanced, ethical, and realistic take on life that would have had Epicurus nodding in agreement.

A wide-ranging, entirely commendable explication of the humanist worldview.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4808-1124-9

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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  • Rolling Stone & Kirkus' Best Music Books of 2020

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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