It’s an intellectual autobiography — a starchy, ardent and, on occasion, surprisingly personal account of what it means to be the custodian of one’s conscience in a world saturated with orthodoxies. In other words, it’s a passionate treatment of one of Robinson’s longtime preoccupations … She published no new fiction for 24 years, devoting herself instead to deep study of Marx, Darwin and the history of political thought. In many ways, What Are We Doing Here? is a response to those years of study, a repudiation of Marx and Darwin, of powerful ideologies of any stripe that simplify the world … Most of the essays in this new book were delivered as speeches, and some repetition is inevitable. But so too is our desire for more — for the refinement of her ideas instead of the rehashing — especially since the final essay, which takes an unexpectedly personal turn, delivers like no other.
...an erudite, authoritative and demanding collection that probes questions of faith and doubt, history and ideology that both divide America and bring it together … 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 … 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.’
This collection is no meager response to human grandeur, but rather a celebration of it. Here Robinson debunks the historical myths and political tropes we fall prey to (that capitalism fuels America, for example, or that everything is reducible to a cost-benefit analysis, or that Puritans were pale-faced shamers). Such clichéd thinking, she suggests, only deepens our divisions and denigrates who we are. In essays that challenge our current myopia, Robinson praises our past and our potential. She sheds light. She muses. She quotes great thinkers and poets. She marvels. There is always in these essays the sense of the divine behind every human encounter … Not all the essays are easy. Her ruminations are meandering and deep — ideas river off, etymologies are explored, histories examined. The reader will do well to keep her paddle in the current, for it is well worth the ride.