December Book Reviews

Reviews by Len Oppenheim

This being our final newsletter of 2009, I certainly want to send our holiday greetings to our friends, customers, and other readers. We hope all will share good times with family and friends and that 2010 will bring good health, prosperity, and happiness to those who receive these newsletters and, of course, to the whole world.

Every year I recommend that each person buy at least one copy (and hopefully more) of Treasury of Spiritual Wisdom, compiled by Andy Zuko. It is a collection of more than 10,000 quotations that cover everything of interest, from “abundance to worry”. It is a terrific book for inspiration and knowledge. On any given day one can just pick a page at random and discovery something of great value. Not only is it something we can cherish and use for the rest of our lives, it makes the ideal gift.

Going from the spiritual to the very mundane, I just finished reading End The Fed, by Ron Paul. While this is not the greatest book ever written, and despite the fact that I do not agree with everything Paul says or recommends, I do believe that every American who considers himself or herself a patriot, and who cares about the future of this country must read this book in order to be informed about the machinations and policies of what has become probably the single most important quasi-government agency in America.

If you don’t think this is a book that you would find interesting or relevant, I urge you to go to a bookstore and read the first chapter “Why you should care”.

Money and Interest rates are critical to our individual well-being and the health of our nation. This book “tells it like it is”. It explains the facts and fallacies about how the Fed manipulates our money supply for the benefit of the rich and powerful and to the detriment of the good hard working and retired people of this country.

I beg, urge, and cajole you to read this book.

I am sure many of you have read books by Jon Krakauer. I just read two of his best, Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air.

The former is all about the Fundamentalist sects that have sprung from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and goes into a detailed and fascinating history of Mormonism. While I would say that the book was a little too long, and often repetitive, I found it totally engrossing and fascinating. I very highly recommend this book.

Krakauer was an accomplished mountain climber and was hired by a magazine to go on a commercially sponsored climb of Mt. Everest. Into Thin Air, is the story of an expedition that ended in tragedy and death.

I learned (I think) that you have to be somewhat crazy to want to climb at altitudes above 20,000 feet. Nevertheless, this narrative was riveting and informative and is a real page turner. This is another book I highly recommend.

(I am not going into long reviews on these books by Krakauer because they are best-sellers, well known, and well-reviewed.)

Last month Tony reviewed American Shaolin, by Matthew Polly. This is a very unique and wonderful book which I read and thoroughly enjoyed.

This is Polly’s story of the two years (during the early 90’s) that he spent at an isolated monastery where he learned Kung Fu from the world’s greatest experts.

The story is compelling. Polly is an honest and likable guy. The Chinese “monks”—mostly young boys—are fascinating products of a unique cultural heritage. There are all sorts of “weirdo’s” whose dedication to kick boxing has enabled them to develop characteristics and skills which transcend the ordinary.

This is one of those rare books that examines a unique slice of life about which one would never know in the absence of reading it. The characters, all real people, are bigger than life. Often I found myself laughing out loud. At other times tears came to my eyes from the pathos of the situation.

It is impossible to compare this wonderful narrative to almost anything else I have ever read. Tony and I have very different tastes, so when we both really love a book chances are most of you will find it worth reading.

The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. John Haldane

My final recommendation for 2009 is a very special book (discovered by Tony) which strikes to the heart of all of the most significant spiritual, psychological, and scientific issues that we may consider during our lives.

Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, by Robert Lanza, MD with Bob Berman is a very exciting, and important book.

The central thesis of this book is that “life creates the universe rather than vice versa”. The thesis is developed using the multi-discipline backgrounds of the authors, which include leading edge biology, neuro-science, astronomy, quantum physics, and even common sense.

Here are a smattering of what I consider to be important quotes or insights found in this book:

“Until recently, we thought we knew what the universe was made of, but it now turns out that 96 per cent of the universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy, and we have virtually no idea what they are.”

“It even turns out that the Big Bang has no answer for one of the greatest mysteries in the universe: why is the universe exquisitely fine-turned to support life?”

“It is well known that quantum theory, while working incredibly well mathematically, makes no logical sense…”

“In the last few decades, there has been considerable discussion of a basic paradox in the construction of the universe as we know it. Why are the laws of physics exactly balanced for animal life to exist? For example, if the Big Bang had been one-part-in-a-million more powerful, it would have rushed out too fast for the galaxies and life to develop…”

“And this is one of the central themes of biocentrism and this book: that the animal observer creates reality and not the other way around.”

The above should give you enough of a taste to figure out whether or not this is a book for you. I find this approach and thinking fascinating and meaningful. This is one of the best and most important books I have ever read.

Reviews by Tony Kainauskus

What a precious and tender novel:

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie.

It is one of those books you want everyone to read.

The book is a romantic fable about 2 young Chinese men who are banished from their city homes to the country during the intellectual purge and reeducation ordered by Chairman Mao. The author himself was part of the purge and was sent to rural China for reeducation between 1971 and 1974.

Forced into daily hard labor, the 2 young men gain a temporary respite when the local Communist enforcer discovers the young men’s story telling abilities. The enforcer sends them to a distant village to watch movies. They are instructed to come back and retell the movie word for word for the locals. The locals are awed by the young men’s abilities to recreate the theatrical scenes.

A major source of joy for the 2 young men is stealing a chest filled with illegal contraband… and what is this illegal, evil stuff (feared by the government)??? It turns out to be wonderful classic books of literature by Balzac, Dostoevsky and others.

The writings bring a spiritual joy that helps the young men transcend the physical labor imposed upon them.

The major subplot is the main characters love for a beautiful young Chinese seamstress and their attempts to educate her (to help break her free of her peasanthood) by reading to her many books of literature. But alas this plan leads to a path neither of our 2 heroes could foresee.

Another subplot entails dentistry using a sewing machine. This needs to be read for oneself as  I cannot do this chapter the justice it deserves.

The book was highly recommended by a customer… And for this gift I give many thanks.

So please read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and that way I can reciprocate the gift that was bestowed upon me.
Here is a review submitted by one of our customers..

I feel this title will be of interest for a number of our readers…


If you haven’t read Dean Sluyter’s Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Teachings from the Movies, an amazing experience awaits you. Dean is a superb writer, film critic and teacher who infuses this book (his third) with deep spiritual insights (mostly Buddhist) about movies.

A partial list of the films included in the book are…

A Night at the Opera (Marx brothers),
The Truman (true man) Show
A Fist Full of Dollars
Easy Rider
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Godfather.

He also unfolds his own personal spiritual journey throughout the book, including his many years in the TM Movement. Dean, who became a TM teacher in 1971, was among the earliest MIU graduates, receiving his M.A. in 1975. His course in Enlightened Literature at the Pingry School in New Jersey was the first program to offer TM instruction to high school students, and several Movement leaders got their start in Dean’s classroom.

This is a hard book to put down, and you’ll find yourself re-reading certain chapters deepen your understanding not just of the films, but also of Buddhist philosophy and psychology.

Mark Wilensky

Thank you Mark, for the above review.

The publishers of the 3 part Guru Dev book set have released a DVD on Guru Dev
“featuring specially digitally remastered movie film footage of Guru Dev, Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati + recordings of Guru Dev with onscreen translations. So now it is possible to view good quality film images of Guru Dev, and also to be able to listen to his discourse whilst tracking the specially prepared subtitled translation. The closest thing to obtaining the darshan of Guru Dev.” Please note: This DVD will arrive from England in about 7-10 days.

This is a must have for your personal library.

“I Will do it today…
If not today then tomorrow
If not tomorrow
Then who cares?”

Those were the quotes under my High School year book photo.
My High School girlfriend felt they were an insult.

At that time I thought she may have been correct… I was not popular with my class
I did not go to my prom or graduation.

But reading those words in the present… I see them as a personal koan given to me by my class.

They are actually a spiritual Advaitic gift.
I now think of them as my personal mantra.

One of the many tickets out of this carnival…a passage out of my personal house of mirrors.

So 40 years later a belated thanks to the class of 1969 Plainville High School.