Empathetic inquiries into the challenges of faith.

FILLED WITH FIRE AND LIGHT

PORTRAITS AND LEGENDS FROM THE BIBLE, TALMUD, AND HASIDIC WORLD

A posthumous collection probes sources of Jewish wisdom.

Adapted from a series of lectures delivered between 1967 and 2014, Nobel laureate Wiesel (1928-2016) celebrates the lives and struggles of spiritual leaders appearing in the Bible, Torah, and Hasidic lore. How, he asks, can one person make a difference when faced with evil and oppression? With a special affection for prophets, the author introduces Elisha ben Shafat, “strange, elusive, complex, full of contradictions,” a man of volatile temper, at times directed cruelly at children. His teacher was the prophet Elijah, to whom Elisha felt unwavering loyalty. Purveyor of 16 miracles, especially in the aid of women, Elisha fought hunger, repelled enemies of the king of Israel, cured the afflicted, and intervened in affairs of state, including the incitement of a bloody revolution. Among biblical kings, Wiesel singles out Josiah, “one of the notable exceptions to the corrupt idol-worshipping Jewish kings,” who restored the commemoration of Passover among his people. From the Talmudic universe, “a place where conflicts and contradictions meet and rarely get resolved,” Wiesel examines the odd friendship between Rabbi Yohanan and the courageous gladiator Resh Lakish, to whom the rabbi offered marriage to his beautiful sister. The contrast between the two men, Wiesel observes, inspired their grappling over meaning in the Torah. Each attracted Wiesel: Resh Lakish for his “sense of urgency” and commitment to seek the truth; Rabbi Yohanan for his compassion. The enigma of Satan focuses one chapter. In another, Wiesel creates an admiring portrait of the philosopher and scholar Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Hasidim, a deeply humanitarian sect that offered “a new way of attaining hope” and community to Jews—often uneducated and disaffected—who were scattered throughout Eastern Europe. Wiesel counts himself among Hasidim. “Faith in memory,” Wiesel reminds readers, “helps individuals transcend their condition” and justifies “faith in the future.”

Empathetic inquiries into the challenges of faith.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4353-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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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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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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