Author du Jour: Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams

BookJoy-Lama-smallThe Book of Joy,” by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

(Avery, pp 356, $26.00)

A major contradiction lies at the heart of Western societies. The constant pressure towards the quest for happiness. It is no secret that the pressure to be happy creates more anxiety than happiness. Tons of books from fields as varied as sociology, psychology or self-help, have attempted to deal with this issue. Often providing short-time relief with Band-aid remedies, which, as their names indicate, never last over time. Even before pre-Socratic thinkers it was known that happiness never comes from achievement or success, or wealth, or even fame for that matter. And yet, our Western societies keep on promoting these values, with disastrous results on its members. Depression, neurosis, feeling of inadequacies, feeding an endless loop of existential FOMO, and so on, abound around us.

The Book of Joy,” is one of those timeless books that aims at cutting straight through the glut of daily self-pressured drives and bad self-talk. Written by the Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, with Doug Abrams, “The Book of Joy,” details their conversations, which took place over a one-week period in Dharamsala, India. The goal of the book, beyond reuniting the two spiritual leaders, was to teach the world that the quest for happiness is precisely a futile endeavor, because it is ephemeral. They profess instead to rely on joy, at any moment in life. Especially in time of tragedy and great suffering. Both of whom are living proofs, having witnessed countless atrocities. “Every tragic situation can become an opportunity.” Abrams own Eastern interest and proficiency with the material translate the teaching into accessible pertinent lessons. The message is clear and easily absorbed. But like all disciplines, mastery requires a daily practice. No way around it, no matter how much in a rush you may be.

Author du Jour: Eric Beaumard

Beaumard-Wines-Life-small-01-03-17The Wines of My Life, ” by Eric Beaumard

(Abrams pp 280, $45.00)

The Wines of My Life” is a very important book for two reasons. First it was written by, perhaps, the most influential sommelier in the world, Eric Beaumard, who from humble origins and a major road accident that left him physically impaired (he lost an arm), but which only fortified his spirit, hoisted himself to the top rank of the wine tasting industry. For years, Beaumard was head sommelier of “Le Cinq” the prestigious restaurant located inside the Four Seasons George the Fifth in Paris.  The second reason is more prosaic.  BJD contributed to the translation of the book in the US.

Eric Beaumard narrates his tribulations around the world where he visits established names in red, white and champagne wines, Chateau Petrus, Dom Pérignon, Rothschild, to name a few, as well as discovers new upcoming crus and grapes. The present book portrays 75 exceptional wines. Beaumard goes to great lengths to describe why these wines standout from the rests. He traces their origins, history, and evolution through time, meaning winemaking process, traditional or scientific. His meditations are a nose-filled journey through the memoirs of deep musty echoing cellars, the wafting scents of fermentation-stained barrels, and the climbs of steep arid and muddy hills.  Whether you are a wine aficionado or not, “The Wines of My Life” will seduce your palate so much that you will not be able to reject the indelible notes this man is offering you.

Author du Jour: K. J. Howe

As the inauguration of our new president promises to take us into unchartered territory, I pondered on how this month selection could reflect the unknown of the coming months. Per chance many books finding their way to bookstores fail to find their way to readers, and this is where a perceptive book review can help.  This month selection offers a wide range of topics. We have a first timer riding side by side with worldwide spiritual celebrities, and, in between, uncanny voices of the present.

Howe-FREEDOM-BROKER-smallFreedom Broker” by K. J. Howe

(Quercus, pp 374, $ 26.99)

At “Books du Jour,” we pay special attention to first-timers. They are an important step to the continuity of the book business. Reviewing established authors calls for a safe stance. Taking risks on new voices entail careful scrutiny and measured endorsement. But most often than not, intuition rarely betrays. K. J. Howe is one of those safe bets. You know upon reading the first chapters of her novel, “Freedom Broker,” that you are in the presence of an enormous potential. The writing is brisk, the tone confident, and the story not only eye-popping original but also riveting. It is one of those (forgive the cliché) can’t-put-downers as you get enmeshed in the world of K&R. K&R said you? Yes, indeed, which stands for Kidnap and Rescue (though Ransom could have worked too). K &R is not an agency or an LLP, but the world revolving around a professional elite dealing with the kidnapping of hostages (estimated at 40,000 a year) and their rescue operations. Given the uncertainties around the globe, kidnapping has seen a huge increase over the last ten years and can target, not just the rich and famous, but anyone.

The hero of “Freedom Broker,” Thea Paris, the only woman kidnap negotiator in the field, is forced to live through a family tragedy, when her father, Christo, is kidnapped from his yacht off Santorini, and this while his crew get slaughtered in the assault. Thea sets to tasks to discover the who and why, investigating her father’s past and numerous enemies. But remember, when originality strikes, it does so with delightful surprises. In Howe’s novel, the kidnappers demand nothing. No ransom, no political prisoner exchange, except sending enervating Latin quotes . . . which, for Thea, initiate a perilous journey to settle long-standing family score. Be the first one to discover K. J. Howe.

Author du Jour: Miroslav Volf

MVolf.Flourishing-smallFlourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World,” by Miroslav Volf

(Yale University Press, pp 304, $28.00)

Do religions still hold value in our lives in an age of globalization?  There is indeed a paradox in the reactionary violent stance with religions given that both globalization and religions aim for universals. This simplistic vision leaves aside a profound gap: that religions impact us internally whereas the leveling force of globalization shapes us externally. Needless to say that materialism and morals do not mix well. A case well documented in “Flourishing,” where Miroslav Volf first notices that our world is increasingly torn by religious conflicts, often stemming from the threat that globalization brings in its wake.

Volf, a professor of theologian at Yale, is an advocate for bridging the gulf separating the two opposite worlds. What is at stake here is life quality itself and the meaning of being human. The book’s narrative becomes how to find an appropriate balance. In other words, how to live well in a world demanding more and more endless adjustments, which conflict with our disposition, values, and morals. Volf’s solution is spirituality, and though he does not hide that his approach is Christian in nature, his argument is both inviting and needed. In a world increasingly devoid of relevant meanings, God can be the gift and the bridge to connect with others.

Author du Jour: Richard Haass

Haass_WorldinDisar_smallA World in Disarray,” by Richard Haass

(Penguin Press, pp 341, $28.00)

This book has a lot of merit, and more. Let me start with the merit part. Though I do not subscribe with all the solutions, which would take too long to explain, the author. Richard Haass, clearly chisels a new template for a productive global political environment. Something, which he calls World Order 2.0. Haass’s grasp of the international scene is pragmatic, solidly anchored in a deep experience. One can sense that years in the administration have made him the de-facto expert in foreign policy and international relations. What makes the book so engaging however is its outline. Before offering his conceptualization and solution for the future of American relations, Haass gives a world tour of the current international climate, exposing the traditional triumvirate of power, Russia, China and US, and complementing it with the new disrupters and rule-breakers, the likes of ISIS and North Korea.

Now about the more. When I first reviewed the book three months ago, the world was a different world. With hindsight of the last three months of the Trump presidency, the book can appear prophetic. Lots of the upheavals that have unraveled since the beginning of the year have somehow taken place, as if Haass had his ears glued directly against a geo-political crystal ball. But this would be misleading. Because Haass is just what he is: a fine-tuned expert, woh has sharpened his tools on the stone of history.

What becomes valuable in Haass’s incisive analysis is his understanding of the breaking down of post-WWII models of foreign policies seen as completely unfit to confront the new issues of terrorism, climate change, cyber war and the potential threat of nuclear weapons. The book’s merit lies here. Haass is not afraid to mention the US’s past mistakes in foreign policy and often its failure not to act. As you can imagine the task the new leadership has to face is staggering, and it requires sound minds to deal with it. But what comes through is that if the US wants to reinforce its ties with other sovereign nations, it must do so with a radical change of its understanding in an ever changing world. Haass’s strength rests in his ability to pave the first steps for the nation without fear.