Friday, August 24, 2007

Review: Against the Stream by Noah Levine

For whatever reason, I've developed a small passion for books that try to explain Buddhist thought to different audiences. One of my favorites in recent years is Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen, a wonderful book that's part memoir, part guidebook that explains the fundamental ideas of Buddhist philosophy by relating them to punk rock, cartoons and monster movies. Dozens of books like these have been popping out the last few years, and they are particularly enticing to teens interested in religion and philosphy. Noah Levine recently entered the fray with his own book Against the Stream.


Levine’s first book, the memoir Dharma Punx, tells the compelling story of Levine’s self-destructive early years, showing a young man mired in the culture of drugs and violence, and how the principles of Buddhism turned his life around. Although a bit unevenly written, it's a compelling story seeing a young man transcend his addictions and problems and move on to a better life.

After spending the last few years teaching teens at various centers in California, Levine delivers this second book that works as a simplified manual introducing readers to the basics of Buddhist thought. Free of the jargon typically found in modern philosophy Levine strips the complicated and often abstract ideas of Buddhism down to its most basic concepts: escape suffering, live simply and treat yourself and others with ethical respect and love. Levine uses these concepts to explore and tackle issues of particular interest to teens like drug abuse, sexuality, the difficulties of abstinence and being an active part of a community. Probably the most useful parts of the book are the appendices, which include point-by-point directions to transcendtal meditation and lists of print and electronic resources for deeper study.

Unfortunately, this volume offers little in the way of cultural references, humor or other hooks to reel in readers who normally ignore philosophy books. Also lacking the narrative of his first book, I can't help but think the best book for Levine would be a merging of his memoir and this guide. As it is, Against the Stream comes off as informative but a little dry----and far from revolutionary. Despite these failings, Levine’s still managed to create an excellent and concise introductory resource for those who have an interest in Buddhism but have found other books too daunting in their language and concepts.


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