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Recommended Books

From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life

Jacques Barzun

HarperCollins, 2000

From Dawn To Decadence

In the last half-millennium, as the noted cultural critic and historian Jacques Barzun observes, great revolutions have swept the Western world. Each has brought profound change — for instance, the remaking of the commercial and social worlds wrought by the rise of Protestantism and by the decline of hereditary monarchies. And each, Barzun hints, is too little studied or appreciated today, in a time he does not hesitate to label as decadent.

To leaf through Barzun's sweeping, densely detailed but lightly written survey of the last 500 years is to ride a whirlwind of world-changing events. Barzun ponders, for instance, the tumultuous political climate of Renaissance Italy, which yielded mayhem and chaos, but also the work of Michelangelo and Leonardo — and, he adds, the scientific foundations for today's consumer culture of boom boxes and rollerblades. He considers the 16th-century varieties of religious experimentation that arose in the wake of Martin Luther's 95 theses, some of which led to the repression of individual personality, others of which might easily have come from the "Me Decade." Along the way, he offers a miniature history of the detective novel, defends Surrealism from its detractors, and derides the rise of professional sports, packing in a wealth of learned and often barbed asides.

Never shy of controversy, Barzun writes from a generally conservative position; he insists on the importance of moral values, celebrates the historical contributions of Christopher Columbus, and twits the academic practitioners of political correctness. Whether accepting of those views or not, even the most casual reader will find much that is new or little-explored in this attractive venture into cultural history.

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War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Chris Hedges

Anchor, 2003

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

"The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation," writes Chris Hedges, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. In War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Hedges draws on his experiences covering conflicts in Bosnia, El Salvador and Israel as well as works of literature from the Iliad to Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism to look at what makes war so intoxicating for soldiers, politicians and ordinary citizens. He discusses outbreaks of nationalism, the wartime silencing of intellectuals and artists, the ways in which even a supposedly objective press glorifies the battlefield and other universal features of war. He argues not for pacifism but for responsibility and humility on the part of those who wage war.

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The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence

Francis A. Boyle
Foreward by Philip Berrigan

Ballantine Books, 1994

The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence

As the U.S. "war on terrorism" hurtles into uncharted waters, challenging accepted norms of international law and setting a pattern for peremptory state behavior, could a nuclear strike against a non-nuclear "rogue state" become an American option? Could conflicts between other nuclear states (such as India and Pakistan, or China and Taiwan) go nuclear?

In The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, Francis A. Boyle argues the Bush Administration’s toying with the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Afghanistan, its intent to proceed with National Missile Defense, to renew nuclear testing, and to develop "bunker-busting" nuclear weapons, will have disastrous impact on existing international efforts to rein in the global nuclear arms race through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Already, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has fallen before the Bush Administration's scythe.

This book provides a succinct and detailed guide to understanding the arms race from Hiroshima/Nagasaki through the SALT I, SALT II, ABM and START efforts at arms control, to Star Wars/National Missile Defense, U.S. unilateral abrogation of the ABM Treaty, and events in Afghanistan and beyond. The book clarifies the relevant international law, from the Hague Conventions through the Nuremberg Principles to the recent World Court Advisory Opinion, as well as tracing contradictions in and contraventions of domestic guidelines established in the U.S. Army Field Manual of 1956 on The Law of Land Warfare, which remains the official primer for U.S. military personnel concerning the laws of war to which they must regard themselves as subject.

More disturbingly, Boyle reviews the intricacies of the foreign policy controversies and objectives which mark the development of American nuclear policy, often pressed forward by civilian administrations seeking to promote their geopolitical agenda over the advice and desires of the American military itself. This book is an effective tool and a "must read" for the burgeoning anti-nuclear and peace movements, church groups, and lawyers defending anti-nuclear resisters. It should also prove instructive for the diplomatic community, and for civilian and military personnel who frame and carry out America’s nuclear policies, who must weigh the possibility of being summoned one day before an international war crimes tribunal.

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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Samuel P. Huntington

Simon & Schuster, 1998

The Clash of Civilizations

The thesis of this provocative and insightful book is the increasing threat of violence arising from renewed conflicts between countries and cultures that base their traditions on religious faith and dogma. This argument moves past the notion of ethnicity to examine the growing influence of a handful of major cultures — Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African — in current struggles across the globe. Samuel P. Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University and foreign policy aide to President Clinton, argues that policymakers should be mindful of this development when they interfere in other nations' affairs.

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The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization

Thomas L. Friedman

Anchor, 2003

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

One day in 1992, Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman toured a Lexus factory in Japan and marveled at the robots that put the luxury cars together. That evening, as he ate sushi on a Japanese bullet train, he read a story about yet another Middle East squabble between Palestinians and Israelis. And it hit him: Half the world was lusting after those Lexuses, or at least the brilliant technology that made them possible, and the other half was fighting over who owned which olive tree. Friedman, the well-traveled New York Times foreign-affairs columnist, peppers The Lexus and the Olive Tree with stories that illustrate his central theme: that globalization — the Lexus — is the central organizing principle of the post-cold war world, even though many individuals and nations resist by holding onto what has traditionally mattered to them — the olive tree. While many people are familiar with the word, few of us fully comprehend the meaning of globalization. As Friedman sees it, the concept, at first glance, is all about American hegemony, about Disneyfication of all corners of the earth. But the reality is far more complex than that, involving international relations, global markets, and the rise of the power of individuals (Bill Gates, Osama Bin Laden) relative to the power of nations. The Lexus and the Olive Tree is an excellent overview of the factors that make up globalization. Its chief limitation is that it leaves out spirituality.

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The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War

Robert D. Kaplan

Vintage Books, 2001

The Coming Anarchy

Robert Kaplan warns of a "bifurcated world divided between societies like ours, producing goods and services that the rest of the world wants, and those mired in various forms of chaos." This is a familiar theme for previous Kaplan readers (Balkan Ghosts, The Ends of the Earth). For those unacquainted with Kaplan, however, The Coming Anarchy is a fine introduction to one of the most important voices on the future of society and international relations. Kaplan mixes the intense reportage of a travel writer with the sharp wisdom of a foreign-policy expert to deliver what he calls "an unrelenting record of uncomfortable truths, of the kind that many of us implicitly acknowledge but will not publicly accept." The Coming Anarchy is also a disturbing book: Kaplan's vision of the future is a bleak one, full of ethnic conflict as the world falls away from a cold war that at least provided a kind of stability in even the shakiest of countries. That's gone now, of course, and Kaplan's descriptions of life and politics in Sierra Leone, Russia, India, and elsewhere are keenly troubling.

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The Culture of Disbelief:
How American Law and Politics
Trivialize Religious Devotion

Stephen Carter

Anchor, 1994

328 pages, paperback

ISBN: 0385474989


The Culture of Disbelief

In The Culture Of Disbelief, Stephen Carter explains how we can preserve the vital separation of church and state while embracing rather than trivializing the faith of millions of citizens or treating religious believers with disdain. What makes Carter's work so intriguing is that he uses liberal means to arrive at what are often considered conservative ends. Explaining how preserving a special role for religious communities can strengthen our democracy, The Culture Of Disbelief recovers the long tradition of liberal religious witness (for example, the antislavery, antisegregation, and Vietnam-era antiwar movements). Carter argues that the problem with the 1992 Republican convention was not the fact of open religious advocacy, but the political positions being advocated.

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Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft

Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson (editors)

Oxford University Press, 1995


Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft

A collection of case studies and theoretical essays on the role of religion in international conflicts, by members of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and various specialists in religion, education and conflict resolution. Offers a systematic account of modern cases in which religious or spiritual factors have played a part in resolving conflict. Examines issues such as the religious conciliation between the Sandinistas and the East Coast Indians of Nicaragua, Quaker conciliation during the Nigerian civil war, and the role of the Catholic church in the Philippines revolution of 1986. Includes notes on contributors and a foreword by former president Jimmy Carter.

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The Future of Peace: On the Front Lines with the World's Great Peacemakers

Scott A. Hunt

Harper SanFrancisco, 2002

The Future of Peace

"It is much easier to see the problem than to find the answer!" declares the Dalai Lama while discussing the future of peace with first-time author Hunt, who has a degree in international law and teaches Buddhism at UC-Berkeley. The Dalai Lama, Dr. Jane Goodall and Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi are some of the great peacemakers whose eloquent voices are captured by Hunt in this bold attempt to discover the causes of human suffering and the antidote to violence. While in Cambodia, Hunt denotes the historical forces that led to the Khmer Rouge genocide and unapologetically details America's role in creating "one of the darkest episodes in human history." He converses with the famed Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda, "the Gandhi of Cambodia," about the importance of compassion and forgiveness, even toward one's enemy. The ability of Maha Ghosananda to forgive the Khmer Rouge, responsible for the murder of his entire family, is incomprehensible until Hunt invites the monk to explain his Buddhist philosophy. Hunt himself displays courage and persistence in gaining access to these minds. He details his discreet communications with underground operatives in Burma who helped him evade military intelligence officers hoping to block his access to Suu Kyi. Similarly, in Israel, Hunt defies cautionary warnings to cross into the Gaza Strip to show the oppressive conditions of Palestinian refugee camps. In the words of Maha Ghosananda, "you are who you associate with," and through these accounts, Hunt hopes we all might become a little more peaceful.

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Toward a Psychology of Being

Abraham H. Maslow

John Wiley & Sons, 1998

Toward a Psychology of Being

Abraham Maslow's theories of self-actualization and the hierarchy of human needs are the cornerstone of modern humanistic psychology, and no book so well epitomizes those ideas as his classic Toward a Psychology of Being. A profound book, its influence continues to spread, more than a quarter century after its author's death, beyond psychology and throughout the humanities, social theory, and business management theory. Of course, the book's enduring popularity stems from the important questions it raises and the answers it provides concerning what is fundamental to human nature and psychological well-being, and what is needed to promote, maintain, and restore basic mental and emotional well-being. But its success also has to do with Maslow's unique ability to convey difficult philosophical concepts with passion, precision, and astonishing clarity, and, through the power of his words, to ignite in readers a sense of creative joy and wholeness toward which we, as beings capable of self-actualization, strive.

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The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth

Jeremy Rifkin

Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2003

The Hydrogen Economy

The road to global security," writes Jeremy Rifkin, "lies in lessening our dependence on Middle East oil and making sure that all people on Earth have access to the energy they need to sustain life. Weaning the world off oil and turning it toward hydrogen is a promissory note for a safer world." Rifkin's international bestseller, The Hydrogen Economy, presents the clearest, most comprehensive case for moving ourselves away from the destructive and waning years of the oil era toward a new kind of energy regime. Hydrogen — one of the most abundant substances in the universe — holds the key, Rifkin argues, to a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable world.

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Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from the Inside Out

Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson

Ballantine Books, 1994

Spiritual Politics

This is an involving study of the cosmic, karmic and etheric dimensions of politics, world affairs and current events. Drawing from the great spiritual traditions, practices and practitioners, McLaughlin and Davidson, cofounders of the New Synthesis Think Tank and the Sirius Ecological Community, meticulously present the role of metaphysics in the political realm. Looking to ancient wisdom for answers to today's social, economic and environmental ills, they offer a new paradigm of transformational politics: making the political personal through spiritual practice and using this transformational paradigm to change the world from the inside out. ("We must transform ourselves if we intend to transform the world.") In uniting politics with spirituality, the authors describe their concept of the Divine (including reincarnation and a transhuman "Invisible Government" of spiritual guides) in the solemn tone of scholarly reportage. Information-intensive and chock full of empowering suggestions, intriguing stories and uplifting examples of how individuals and groups can make an impact, this thought-provoking assemblage is an enriching, mind-opening book for seekers of spiritual wisdom and political solutions. Foreword by the Dalai Lama.

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Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization

Ira Rifkin

Skylight Paths Publishing, 2003

Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization

Globalization as we know it emerged in a 1944 plan for post-war economic recovery, starting with the World Bank. This first institution and indicator has multiplied in many ways over the last half-decade, and globalization has become a contentious international issue. One of the lessons of September 11 is that the time for spiritual provincialism is clearly over. Religion journalist, Ira Rifkin, has produced a highly readable, quick study that begins to come to terms with the global religious agendas arising within and outside our borders. The book's interesting personal narratives, sprinkled throughout, reflect a true pluralism and enliven what could be a dry, doctrinaire approach. Rifkin examines Roman Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, the Bah'ai faith, tribal and earth-based religions, and Protestantism for evidence of how they view the economic, cultural and personal aspects of globalization. Writing with balanced appraisal and astute depth, Rifkin provides readers with a sense of how the major tenets of each tradition give rise to individual perceptions and actions on globalization. His understandings of the social constructs that arise out of belief are fascinating and essential reading. Avoiding a jargon-laden treatise, Rifkin keeps the writing light and clear, using eminent support from the likes of Huston Smith and Karen Armstrong. For anyone who has asked why terrorism has come to American shores, Rifkin supplies some well-informed and quite broad answers.

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Eleutherios: The Only Truth That Sets The Heart Free

Adi Da Samraj

The Dawn Horse Press, 2001


One can say that Kaplan (see The Coming Anarchy) and Friedman (see The Lexus and the Olive Tree) are each looking at the same world, but the former is a pessimist while the latter is an optimist. In contrast, the Spiritual Master, Adi Da Samraj, is a Realist of the ultimate kind. That is to say, Adi Da is not limited to secular world views, or even views of the Greater Reality that include linking up with astral planes, spiritual guides, and the like (as in Spiritual Politics). Adi Da grounds the observations and proposals of Eleutherios — and material reality itself, for that matter — in the priorly existing Transcendental Reality. That Enlightened State of Perfect Happiness is the ultimate human destiny, and — even beyond all the forces and needs that motivate war, crime, and all conventional discord — the deepest need of every human heart. It is therefore necessarily at the center of a road to human sanity on both a local and a global scale. But the entry price that must be paid for Enlightenment is the complete transcendence of one's own ego.

excerpt from the book:

Human societies are always tending to be modeled after the un-Enlightened pattern of the individual ego. The political and social systems of the present-day world are not generated by literally Enlightened (or even highly "evolved") leaders, ideals, or institutions. . . . The entire world is now nearly out of control with egoic motives. Mankind, indoctrinated by materialistic philosophies, ego-serving technologies, and gross political idealisms, is possessed by the mechanical and emotionally negative efforts of self-indulgence (and anxious release-seeking efforts of all kinds), and chronically depressed by the frustration of the Spiritual and Divine impulses that are the inherent characteristics of the heart of every living being. The ego-"I", whether individual or collective, is eventually reduced to sorrow and despair (or chronic life-depression), because of (and as an experiential result of) the inability of life (in and of itself) to generate Happiness and Joy and Immortality. And that self-contained depression finally becomes anger, or loveless confrontation with the total world and every form of presumed "not-self" . . . And when anger becomes the mood of human societies, the quality of fire (or the primitive and destructive intent of the frustrated ego) invades the plane of humanity. That fire is expressed as all of the aggression and competitiveness, and all of the resultant sufferings and painful illusions, of mankind, including all of the ego-based politics of confrontation. And that ego-fire is, finally, summarized in the acts of war. . . .

Avatar Adi Da Samraj

Avatar Adi Da's insistence on the primary importance of human-scale cooperative community as the basic unit of the successful state is bold and refreshing. Each of us bears responsibility to practice, moment to moment, the ego-surrendering sacrifice that makes life sacred at the community level, peaceful on the level of interaction among nations. Adi Da's Teaching is neither utopian nor dissociative; it is simply a radically new human politics based on the Truth. Even as He transcends the common bonds of the human, Adi Da remains the Great Teacher of the pragmatic human situation. How incredibly blessed that He is here at the moment when we need Him most!

Dan Hamburg, Former member of Congress; Executive Director, Voice of the Environment

"I do not know how such Divine Intervention works, but I have absolutely no doubt that Avatar Adi Da Is Who He Says He Is."

Rolf Carriere, UNICEF Representative; United Nations Development Specialist

The life and teaching of Avatar Adi Da Samraj are of profound and decisive spiritual significance at this critical moment in history."

Bryan Deschamps, Senior Adviser at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees; Former Dean of the Carmelite House of Studies, Australia; Former Dean of Trinity College, University of Melbourne

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