cover image The Collected Letters of Alan Watts

The Collected Letters of Alan Watts

Edited by Joan Watts and Anne Watts. New World Library, $32.50 (560p) ISBN 978-

The writings of Alan Watts, a prominent 20th-century Western interpreter of East Asian religion and philosophy, receive a formidable bolstering in this revealing collection of unpublished letters compiled by two of his daughters. The letters cover a wide range of interests and highlight the drastic changes in Watt’s life: his early boarding school years in London, move to the United States, life as a seminarian, various marriages and relationships, employment at the American Academy of Asian Studies, use of psychedelics, and publishing and lecturing tours. The first half of the collection is particularly illuminating: the letters reveal a sharp, delighted mind, conversing with others in near-paroxysm to synthesize Buddhist insight with Christian metaphysics and “God-as-Person” theology (his early emphasis on mystical experience as a dramatic action hints toward his later intellectual development as a popular guru of 70s counterculture). Commentary by his daughters gives context to some crucial details that are otherwise elided by Watts himself, such as the deterioration of a few of his marriages and his relationships with literary figures such as Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Sokei-an Sasaki. This collection is a gold mine of insights, offering glimpses into a brilliant mind for newcomers and the acquainted alike. (Dec.)