My recent review for the Los Angeles Review of Books poses some big questions about new forms of altruism, which I believe are important to ask in this burgeoning era of philanthrocapitalism, corporate giving, and crowdfunding. In June 2015, I had the opportunity to interview Matthieu Ricard about his newest book, Altruism, an 864-page exploration of the concept and its potential applications. Ricard's contributions to dialogues between Buddhism and Science made him a key character in my dissertation and, thus, central to my own academic inquiry. After spending a number of years observing Ricard, analyzing his work through a rhetorical lens, and characterizing his contributions from an academic standpoint, meeting him in person was illuminating and altered my perspective on his work as only direct contact can do. I hope you'll enjoy some of my own meditations on the concept of altruism and my review of the book.
Here's a link to the full piece:
An excerpt from the review that offers a bit of context for the book:
"Altruism, which is Ricard’s newest book, proceeds from his reputation as perennially fascinating public figure. The son of renowned political theorist, journalist, and public intellectual Jean-François Revel and abstract painter Yahne le Toumelin, Ricard trained as a molecular biologist at the Pasteur Institute before making the decision to depart from a promising scientific career to study Tibetan Buddhism. Siddhartha-like, Ricard turned away from the central bustle of French intellectual and artistic life toward a relatively quiet, contemplative existence in the Himalayas. After the passing of his teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, in 1991, and in response to a burgeoning conversation between Buddhist contemplatives and scientists, Ricard reentered the Western intellectual circuit. He co-authored two dialectic-style books which marked this reinvestment: in 1998, he wrote The Monk and the Philosopher, a philosophical dialogue with his father which quickly became a bestseller in France, and, in 2000, he co-authored The Quantum and the Lotus, a dialogue with Vietnamese physicist Trinh Xuan Thuan.
Ricard’s story mirrors the Buddha’s story: a hero’s journey in which the man who has it all walks away from “it all” to find real, lasting, authentic happiness … and comes back to teach the rest of us. Ricard’s dedicated meditation practice received the scientific stamp of approval after he participated in a series of studies at Richard Davidson’s Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beginning in the late ’90s and continuing at present, Davidson’s studies assert that advanced meditators, like Ricard, are able to induce greater levels of brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with positive affect and reduced levels of anxiety and stress. In the coverage of Davidson’s work, the popular press labeled Ricard “the happiest man in the world,” a moniker that sometimes embarrasses Ricard, but solidifies his status as a global icon."