Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Knowldge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment -- Rudolf Steiner -------- 2.5 Stars

So, on Saturday, we were crushed with 16 inches of snow in about 24 hours. On the bad side, this shut down our little road (which still has not been plowed... let's get going City of Alexandria) and, on the good side, canceled school from now until 2010. This has thus provided me with ample time to read some books that I have been looking forward to and what better way to pass time on a snow day/Winter Break than learning Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment? This was a book written in the early 1900s by a philosopher, scientist and educator named Rudolf Steiner. Like me, you probably have never heard of him or the book.

In fairness of full disclosure, mother's are always right. I saw this book that last time I visited my parents and was intrigued by the title. I mean, honestly, who wouldn't want knowledge of the higher worlds? I asked my mom if I could borrow it and she said sure but she then added you aren't ready for it in your life and probably won't understand. Well there was a challenge if I ever heard one -- not ready for it? not ready to understand? -- hogwash.

As it turns out my mother was quite right. Definitely wasn't ready for it and understood only parts of it. This is part of the reason I have already written three paragraphs and not mentioned the book. So here we go: The book is basically a guide for how to literally understand the higher worlds and attain greater spiritual knowledge. The book steps you through, in fairly clear scientific detail, how to get to those levels.

Okay, first the good points. The ideas in this book are really quite cool and would be wonderful to ascertain. You have to go in with an open mindset reading this book (otherwise the idea of your lotus opening up your dreams to your soul's full control might be beyond you). The entire text reminded me a great deal of the teachings of Buddhism (and yes, my one semester of Buddhism at Mary Washington makes me an expert). Steiner seems to consistently refer to Buddhist ideas of dealing with suffering, using shakras, and understand 'right duty' and 'right action'. He even mentions Buddha in some passages. The best, and not coincidentally most easy to understand, parts of the book are in the first half. Here he talks about truly living a good, moral life filled with altruism, humility and truthfulness. These concepts can be understood and followed by anyone and would certainly improve their life and the world.

I did have some problems with the text, which ultimately garnered the 2.5 star rating. First, to do what he is asking is incredibly hard. I guess this shouldn't be shocking and really shouldn't take away from the review of the book but becoming more attuned with your spiritual side takes a lot of effort (too much for me at 29). Second, and perhaps the biggest issue, the book is written in very intellectual language with some difficult vocabulary. Here's a typical example "When esoteric development has progressed so far that the lotus flowers being to stir, much has already been achieved by the student which can result in the formation of certain quite definite currents and movements in his etheric body." Yeah, try 270 pages of that. Third, the book starts go into some really, for a lack of a better word, "heavy" stuff in the second half of the book. Once you have done the initiation and gone through the esoteric training, you then can look at splitting your personality during spiritual training and understanding more about the guardian of the threshold. There' really some wacky stuff that you don't ever hear or read about in your daily life so be prepared.

Overall, as crazy as this stuff sounds, I can't knock it. I haven't tried to follow his methods and guide and will not state that's unreal as incredible as it sounds. If anybody out there is interested in undertaking this awesome journey to higher spiritual attainment, this book is for you. You will need to go through it quite slowly but it seems quite possible that it is legit.

As for me, I always follow my mom's advice: I am certainly not ready for it yet.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brothers – David Talbot ------ 4.5 STARS

For my birthday, my kind sister-in-law and brother-in-law gave me the book Brothers. Since August, I have been waiting to get to it and finally was able to pick it up a few weeks ago. It didn't take long for me to fly through this exciting and investigative story about the Kennedy brothers.

Written by the founder of the investigative journalist site,, David Talbot puts together and incredible and emotional book about the lives of JFK and RFK during the mid-to- late 1960s. The book starts with a detailed and harrowing retelling of JFK's assassination in Dallas before going backwards in time to 1960. Talbot then takes each of JFK's three years in office and writes a chapter on each. The book then concludes with RFK's story after JFK's death until he too meets his own untimely death in 1968.

This book was an absolute pleasure to read and was one of my favorite non-fiction books I have read in a long time. Talbot's style of writing was extremely exciting to read and incredibly easy to follow. Although this book is based entirely on written documents, historical findings and author interviews, it reads like a well crafted spy novel or murder mystery. My only complaint was that Talbot often seemed to be demonsrtating how MANY sources he talked with and there must be over 100 different people mentioned and referenced in the text which made it a bit hard to manage at some points.

The book was so enjoyable to me for a nubmer of reasons. First, I have had an obsession with JFK since a child. Earlier it was becuase of all the assissination lore, but after reading Talbot's book, it's more about him as a president. His aura, decision making abilities and courage were incredible, and I learned so many new details and stories about his life as president. Second, the book confirms and demonsrtates in lucid detail about the intrigue and undermining that was going on at the highest levels of government at this time. I was aware of the incredible difficulty JFK had with his Cabinet and other officials form the movie 13 Days (which is one of my all-time favorite movies if you can get past Costner's ludicrious Boston accent) but had no idea how much JFK and RFK had to fight, not only people in their own Cabinet, but members of the White House staff and nearly all higher-ups at the FBI and CIA. Third, this book was really a tribute to RFK, and I have never read and learned as much about the man as I did in this text; I am also now mildly obsessed with him. RFK was truly the MAN behind JFK. Although not nearly the social rascal and pretty boy as his brother, RFK was the heart and soul of the Kennedy family and was a bulldog in politics. After reading the book, it was quite obvious that once JFK died in '63, RFK died pretty much as well. It was almost as if he knew by '68 that he needed to be another martyr for the revolutionary cause (what revolutionary cause you say? Read the book to find out).

Anywho, I could write all day long about how much I enjoyed this book and continue explaining all the incredible parts of the JFK and RFK story. If you have any interest in either of the Kennedy brothers or in the state of our governments in the 1960s, please read this book. Both JFK and RFK were amazing people, and to read this story you can't help but feel an incredible sense of heroism about both men. It's incredible testament to both men's legacies and by reading it, if nothing else, you pay homage to two great Americans.

(Also, it really, really helps to be a slightly geeky Political Science major to get into it more).