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A Story Waiting to Pierce You: Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of the Western World Paperback – November 1, 2010
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This is a small book. You can read it in an hour. I suggest that you read it several times and really get the golden idea at its core. Then bring that idea to everything you doevery decision, every choice, every plan, every interpretation. Live by an entirely different guidance. Walk like you’ve never walked before.” Thomas Moore, author, Care of the Soul and The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life
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Unsurprisingly most Amazon reviewers fall into two camps: those drawn by the shamanic quest, who make no reference to Kingsley's scholarship, and those drawn by the scholarship but uncomfortable with the shamanic quest, which can destabilize one's sense of control.
Well, Peter Kingsley _could_ have written two books under different noms de plume. But then there's something essentially inauthentic and manipulative about using multiple pen names in this context, isn't there? Give the guy credit for trying to bring to fruition the unique mix of potentialities he was born with, even though he's undoubtedly encountered some rough seas on his journey.
Regarding the narrative part of this book: In its large rhythms and its mingling of intimacy and distance, Peter Kingsley's prose reads like a prose poem, an instrument well suited for stirring readers. There are lapses of tone, however, when the author appears identified with unpleasant parts of his narrative. To some extent these subvert the author's larger intention by interrupting the progress of the narrative's long, positive line. Since Amazon requires reviewers to rate via stars, I'll subtract a star for such blemishes.
Regarding the scholarly part of this book: A few years before the First World War, the British historian Arnold Toynbee drafted a monograph on the culture of ancient Greece. After many interruptions he took up the work again and completed it in the late 1950s, by which time he had become perhaps the most widely read historian writing in English. Hellenism was published in 1959. I mention Hellenism because on pages 59-62 Toynbee tells a story that contains numerous key elements of the story Peter Kingsley tells in the book under review. Among those key elements: Toynbee points out commonalities between Pythagorism and Orphism (in which oracular statements were famously uttered, in trance, by a mouthpiece for Apollo), identifies nomads of northern Asia as the possible source for those common elements, and discusses how this importation into Greece met a religious need that was lacking in Greek culture.
To be sure Toynbee tells this story within a somewhat different perspective that synthesizes other elements, too. But the parallels are striking. I consider them sufficient to justify saying that Mr. Kingsley's scholarship has essentially filled in, with remarkable detail, the large blanks of a story that was evident to Toynbee a century earlier. I certainly don't mean that Kingsley was guided by or even knew of Toynbee's account. If this is sound history, that would be irrelevant in any case; in time any number of historians could uncover some version of this story.
My key take-away is this: Not only is Peter Kingsley's scholarship grounded in its details upon scores and scores of heterogeneous sources, but it may also be considered in its broad outlines mainstream, not idiosyncratic. Whether or not one is personally attracted to his particular synthesis or mode of presentation, this is serious stuff that deserves serious consideration.
As you read them, it's clear that he wants the stories to be about the reader. If you really focus on the story behind the story, you begin to understand that Kingsley is trying to draw the reader into a certain awareness. Many of today's outstanding authors, such as Deepock Chopra, teach us to be aware of our own individual truth. While Kingsley's works do not conflict with Chopra (et al), his intent appears to bring about a more macro awareness of western culture. Where is that awareness? "And the point of life is to follow that presence wherever it leads; never to let it out of your sight; not to look aside even for a moment to the right or left; and once you hold it in your hand or inside your body, never to let it go until the time is right."
Having served almost 28 years in the US armed services, I have seen courage. Likewise, I see in Kingsley a very courageous person who is trying urgently to plant some seeds, to graft some new growth in us, to get us to be aware of the truth of our so-called western "reality". Once there, we might even begin to practice that awareness, just as the ancients did.
To borrow from Barry Long, rational (and irrational) logic dances around the question of "Who am I?" while true logic gets to
the heart of the question. It appears to me that Peter Kingsley is not only asking us to examine that question, but ultimately to ask "Who are We?".