Book Review: The Art Of Stillness

The Art Of Stillness:  Adventures In Going Nowhere, by Pico Iyer

There are several interesting aspects of this work.  For one, it is the work of a well-known travel writer who a friend recommended to me (and this is the first book of four by him in my library’s system that I am reading and reviewing).  For another, the book celebrates the absence of travel, which is nothing if not full of deep ironies given the author’s well-known reputation for jetsetting.  Additionally, the book also makes a great use of arguing for the benefits of the Sabbath [1], although not the point where the author actually wishes to honor God by obeying the Sabbath as is commanded.  There is, therefore, a great deal to appreciate about this book, but there is also a great deal to critique.  The book happens to be a TED book, which, from what I can gather, means that the author’s notes for his TED talk on the subject were supplemented by some glossy pictures and packaged as a book for those who wish to read as well as view that sort of talk.  This is the first such book I have seen, but it is likely not the last.

The contents of this less than 100 page book are short enough that I was able to read the entire book while waiting to get my car’s oil changed.  Still, it’s small size and ease of reading does not mean it is not a worthwhile book or that it does not have something interesting and worthwhile to say, because it does, only that this book is likely not going to be a very challenging read if you are in the habit of reading a lot.  The author introduces his subject by talking about going nowhere and how to understand something in depth, sometimes you have to stay where you are.  The author then looks at the importance of stillness in traveling to “nowhere” (1) as well as charting the stillness in our own daily lives (2).  The author talks about being alone in the dark (3). as well as appreciating stillness where it is needed most in our hectic existence (4).  Finally, the author talks about the importance of celebrating a secular Sabbath (5) and coming back home to what is most important (6).  This is all followed by a few pages that pump up TED and the author and that talk about the Icelandic photographer whose photos grace this book in a very tasteful and elegant and spare way.

There are definitely some odd aspects to this book.  The author at least recognizes the tension between someone who has made his reputation on writing about travel and his desire to write about the importance of stillness where we are.  He spends a bit too much time celebrating the late Leonard Cohen, who does not serve as an inspirational figure for me, whatever his importance may be to the author.  Likewise, I would have been more impressed had the author made a commitment to obey God when it came to honoring the Sabbath day instead of trying to appropriate it for secular purposes without honoring the Creator.  Even so, despite the fact that the author and I are clearly on different sides of our society’s cultural divides, and even though this book did appear like a bit of a cash grab, it does have something worthwhile to say and it is a book I can warmly recommend to those who are looking for encouragement to rest and be still contrary to the hectic and overburdened and overly busy nature of our contemporary world.  The author’s message has merit, even if he is not a perfect messenger.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: The Art Of Stillness

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Round Ireland With A Fridge | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Border | Edge Induced Cohesion

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