An earnest call to act bravely.

COURAGE IS CALLING

FORTUNE FAVORS THE BRAVE

How to overcome fear and right wrongs.

In the first of four proposed volumes on the cardinal virtues of temperance, justice, wisdom, and courage, Holiday, author of books on egotism, Stoicism, and falsehoods spewed by the blogosphere, among many other topics, offers uplifting thoughts, examples, and anecdotes meant to motivate readers to act courageously. He wants his readers to take risks, challenge the status quo, “run toward while others run away,” and “do a thing that people say is impossible.” As in previous books, the author mines ancient Greek philosophers, statesmen, and military leaders for their thoughts on fear, cowardice, boldness, and heroism. Among myriad individuals Holiday cites as courageous are Florence Nightingale, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frederick Douglass, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, John Lewis, and Peter Thiel, whose successful attack on the gossip site Gawker is one that Holiday finds admirable. Thiel, incensed because Gawker outed him as a gay man, “found agency where others saw nothing but impossibility.” Holiday claims that fear—of what others might think of us, of the unknown consequences of our actions—is the enemy of courage. “When fear is defined,” he asserts, “it can be defeated. When downside is articulated, it can be weighed against upside.” Holiday’s tone evokes the voice of a sage, imparting pithy remarks that sometimes border on the hackneyed: “One man with courage can make a majority”; “Grace under pressure is also expressed as cool under pressure for a reason.” He exhorts readers to develop courage to care about others more than about their own needs and acknowledges that sometimes physical courage—even violence—is required in the face of injustice. He recounts a personal test of courage when he worked as a marketing director at American Apparel, whose volatile, destructive CEO should have been removed from power. Holiday’s courage failed him, he admits regretfully, when he did not stand up to his boss.

An earnest call to act bravely.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-19167-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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