What Are We Doing Here?
New essays on theological, political, and contemporary themes, by the Pulitzer Prize winnerMarilynne Robinson has plumbed the human spirit in her renowned novels, including Lila, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Gilead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In this new essay collection she trains her incisive mind on our modern political climate and the mysteries of faith. Whether she is investigating how the work of great thinkers about America like Emerson and Tocqueville inform our political consciousness or discussing the way that beauty informs and disciplines daily life, Robinson's peerless prose and boundless humanity are on full display. What Are We Doing Here? is a call for Americans to continue the tradition of those great thinkers and to remake American political and cultural life as "deeply impressed by obligation [and as] a great theater of heroic generosity, which, despite all, is sometimes palpable still."

What Are We Doing Here? Details

TitleWhat Are We Doing Here?
Author
ReleaseFeb 20th, 2018
PublisherFarrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN-139780374282219
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction, Politics

What Are We Doing Here? Review

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    This is not a lightweight read, as Robinson is an academic first, one who happens to write novels. Most of these essays are speeches Robinson gave at universities between 2015 and 2017, on themes of religion, politics, holiness, humanism, etc. She was clearly on a John Edwards, Calvinism, and Cromwell kick because several of the essays reference these characters, as well as looking at the true history of America and its "Puritan roots." While I believe Robinson understands something deep about h This is not a lightweight read, as Robinson is an academic first, one who happens to write novels. Most of these essays are speeches Robinson gave at universities between 2015 and 2017, on themes of religion, politics, holiness, humanism, etc. She was clearly on a John Edwards, Calvinism, and Cromwell kick because several of the essays reference these characters, as well as looking at the true history of America and its "Puritan roots." While I believe Robinson understands something deep about humanity, I personally prefer the experience of her perspective of it in her fiction than in her essays, but there was is one favorite that I feel everyone should read, one that I luckily found myself reading on Presidents' Day. It's called "A Proof, a Test, an Instruction," and looks at Obama's presidency from a different perspective. It can be a balm for people weary of 45. I also think it's interesting to note that it is one of the few written for print rather than a speech, and I think it is in more of a type of essay I enjoy reading - it has more personal reflection to balance the scholarship and points she is trying to make than the rest of them. So this won't be for everyone, but if you are interested in religion and theology, in examining current events through a historical Calvinist lens, or want to delve deep into her thinking, this will be the book for you. I saw her speak a few years ago at the university where I work, and her quiet command of her topics is really something. Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through Edelweiss. It came out today, February 20th, 2018.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    My review for the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifesty...What does a set of theological essays — essays that aim plainly to consider the nature of God and religious belief in the context of both politics and individual consciousness — have to offer an increasingly secular country?Marilynne Robinson intends to find out in her latest book, “What Are We Doing Here?,” an erudite, authoritative and demanding collection that probes questions of faith and doubt, history and ideology t My review for the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifesty...What does a set of theological essays — essays that aim plainly to consider the nature of God and religious belief in the context of both politics and individual consciousness — have to offer an increasingly secular country?Marilynne Robinson intends to find out in her latest book, “What Are We Doing Here?,” an erudite, authoritative and demanding collection that probes questions of faith and doubt, history and ideology that both divide America and bring it together. As she says in her preface, “I know it is conventional to say that we Americans are radically divided, polarized. But this is not more true than its opposite — in essential ways we share false assumptions and false conclusions that are never effectively examined because they are indeed shared.”The ensuing 15 essays on such philosophical subjects as “Our Public Conversation: How America Talks About Itself” and “Considering the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Love” prove unsparing in their examination of a dizzying assortment of assumptions about what “our core values” as a nation may or may not be, as well as what “we lose when we ignore early American history and, to the extent that when we notice it, mischaracterize it.”The author of four acclaimed novels — including 1980’s “Housekeeping,” which won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award; 2004’s “Gilead,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize; 2008’s “Home,” which won the Orange Prize; and 2014’s “Lila,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award — Robinson is also an accomplished writer of nonfiction.This, her sixth nonfiction book, continues in the voraciously intelligent and meditatively faithful vein of such previous essay collections as “The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought” and “The Givenness of Things.” Subjects that could be construed as a bit dry — science, public education, religion, consciousness — receive graceful treatment here.In the title essay, she contemplates and defends the joys and uses of the humanities, citing examples from “Hamlet,” de Tocqueville, and Whitman to name a few. “If I seem to have conceded an important point in saying that the humanities do not prepare ideal helots, economically speaking,” she writes, “I do not at all mean to imply that they are less than ideal for preparing capable citizens, imaginative and innovative contributors to a full and generous, and largely unmonetizable national life.”And in “Theology for This Moment” she observes: “No other species than ours could be called earnest.” Fittingly, this is an extremely earnest book, sincere and intense in its convictions.The majority of the pieces were delivered as lectures at churches, seminaries and universities; thus, most have the distinctly instructive and at times admonitory tone of that kind of educational talk to an audience. When she warns against the tendency of both the right and the left to “flatten the historical landscape and to deal in moral equivalencies,” and laments that “we have surrendered thought to ideology,” one sometimes wonders if she is not, perhaps, engaging in some of the same flattening. Of whom exactly does this putative “we” consist?This elegantly written book’s appeal to general readers who lack an intimate familiarity both with Christian scripture and Protestant history may frankly be somewhat limited. “In What Is Freedom of Conscience?”, for instance, she writes: “Conversely, it is somewhat unrespectable to have an interest in Cromwell, who is stigmatized in a way that makes him a sort of latter-day Albigensian, a religious fanatic hostile to all of life’s pleasures, and an autocrat besides.” But she follows this somewhat insiderish, divinity school observation with “Stigma is a vast oubliette. Amazing things are hidden in it” — statements pleasing for their metaphoric and metaphysical beauty and provocativeness.Asserting that the language used by the left and the right to make declarations of value is often fraudulent and impoverished, and that “Between them we circle in a maelstrom of utter fatuousness,” doesn't quite qualify as bold, or particularly insightful. But if one needs to be reminded that the moral realm is complex, sophisticated and not always coincident with the realm of politics, then this book accomplishes that in refined prose, and from a Christian — particularly a Calvinist — perspective.Robinson’s arguments that the state of discourse in contemporary America is frustrating, and that we could all stand to think for ourselves and be kinder, are familiar but evergreen. Heady and forceful, composed and serious, Robinson warns readers against despair and cynicism, encouraging us instead to embrace — ideally, in her opinion, through “Christian humanism” — “radical human equality and dignity.”
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  • Tashfin Awal
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways and have chosen to give my honest opinion about it.This book was actually such an interesting read! It's always refreshing to see such an inquisitive angle to things we often take for granted, and to challenge our perceptions of the factors in our lives which we consider above us. While some of the ideas here relied a bit too much on biblical literature for my taste, it was overall an intellectually stimulating read that I would definitel I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways and have chosen to give my honest opinion about it.This book was actually such an interesting read! It's always refreshing to see such an inquisitive angle to things we often take for granted, and to challenge our perceptions of the factors in our lives which we consider above us. While some of the ideas here relied a bit too much on biblical literature for my taste, it was overall an intellectually stimulating read that I would definitely recommend flipping through at least, if not fully diving in.
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  • Chris devine
    January 1, 1970
    What are we doing here? Wasting my time. This book is so dry and annoying, it's somehow both religious and anti religious at the same time, and I can pretty much sum the whole book up with don't be a dick. It seems like she's trying to fix the world, specifically the US, and if everyone lived by the slogan don't be a dick, we'd be pretty ok. The one redeeming essay was A Proof, a Test, an Instruction, which was primarily about Obama, and it was interesting, but at 11 pages it's a small gold nugg What are we doing here? Wasting my time. This book is so dry and annoying, it's somehow both religious and anti religious at the same time, and I can pretty much sum the whole book up with don't be a dick. It seems like she's trying to fix the world, specifically the US, and if everyone lived by the slogan don't be a dick, we'd be pretty ok. The one redeeming essay was A Proof, a Test, an Instruction, which was primarily about Obama, and it was interesting, but at 11 pages it's a small gold nugget in a pile of dirt.I won this in a goodreads giveaway
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  • Sharon Gallup
    January 1, 1970
    This was one of my free giveaways win. it took me a bit of time to read this as yes it isn't a story it is essays written by Marilynne Robinson. If you are a christen who believes in the bible this is a really informative of why we are here and how the past and future follows the teaching of the bible and in God and Jesus Christ and the teachings of mankind. (love, conscience and faith, hope and the practices of life). I took alot out of these essays but it didn't change alot of my mind set. I b This was one of my free giveaways win. it took me a bit of time to read this as yes it isn't a story it is essays written by Marilynne Robinson. If you are a christen who believes in the bible this is a really informative of why we are here and how the past and future follows the teaching of the bible and in God and Jesus Christ and the teachings of mankind. (love, conscience and faith, hope and the practices of life). I took alot out of these essays but it didn't change alot of my mind set. I believe that all mankind are born with a blank and clean slate. That all values of God, religion, faith, etc are taught by the person that raises them. Each person passes on their beliefs and knowledge by what they are taught and told. Now don't get me wrong i am not saying it is wrong. but i believe there is a greater power that controls all life rather it is human, animal etc. But do i believe that it is a man or a spirit i don't know. I have seen the good in religion and i have experienced the bad in religion. Do i believe there is life after death, i honestly have to say i don't know. All i know is I pray I haven't gone through all the hell i have lived and experienced the good to think that when i die it is the end. that there hopefully is more to existence then complete death but do i believe it is a place that is a question i will only know when I die. Religions have changed and more so to suit the living and as life changes so much of the teachings changes with the times.
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  • Marina
    January 1, 1970
    This is a good book, I gave it 3 stars because I couldn't finish it. If I had started it at any other time other then the middle of a busy semester I would have been able to finish it and love it. So for right now it hasn't been finished, however, I will come back to it when I able to read more then 1 or 2 pages at a time.
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  • Tanja
    January 1, 1970
    Please note that I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway (thank you)!The author's drive is clearly emulated and her words are full of passion, but it just was not the book for me. The problem was that her book was very philosophical and although it was written well, the audience member was not right for this book. However, her ideas are very insightful and she touches upon many time periods to support her argument. If you enjoy politics, theology, philosophy, and higher-level thinking Please note that I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway (thank you)!The author's drive is clearly emulated and her words are full of passion, but it just was not the book for me. The problem was that her book was very philosophical and although it was written well, the audience member was not right for this book. However, her ideas are very insightful and she touches upon many time periods to support her argument. If you enjoy politics, theology, philosophy, and higher-level thinking (things which I personally do not), this will be a stimulating read!
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  • Tina
    January 1, 1970
    This book is very dense and dry. It’s philosophical and historical. Trying to read through this and make any sense of it at all is giving me a brain cramp. Off to the “unfinishable” pile it goes. ((I received a free copy of this book through a giveaway on goodreads)
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  • Paula
    January 1, 1970
    I am sure it is a great book but just not that interesting to me
  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    Collection of essays from Marilynne Robinson. Very interesting, but I could only read a few ---- not my cup of tea.
  • Sandra
    January 1, 1970
    After reading this book of essays there can be no doubt that Marilyn Robinson is a writer of great intellect. Her essays are thought provoking and insightful. Thanks to Goodreads for this giveaway.
  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    NYT “Books of the Times,” by Parul Sehgal. On her strained relationship and detente with her mother: “With a little difficulty we finally reached an accommodation, an adult friendship. Then she started watching Fox News.” “My mother lived out the end of her fortunate life in a state of bitterness and panic, never having had the slightest brush with any experience that would confirm her in these emotions, except, of course, Fox News.”
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  • Kim
    January 1, 1970
    I am grateful and honoured to be a Goodreads winner.
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