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Berger’s readers will see with fresh eyes.

A deceptively brief volume offers profound meditations on art, the creative process and so much more.

Berger has long been difficult to categorize—philosopher? art critic? essayist? novelist?—and his latest defies pigeon-holing even by the standards of this British-born writer who has long lived in France. Let’s start with the title, which alludes to a long-rumored but never-found sketchbook by the philosopher Spinoza, to whom Berger refers affectionately as “Bento” (the nickname for Benedict) and whom he excerpts liberally. In fact, dozens of passages from Spinoza’s Ethics, accompanied by drawings from Berger (perhaps channeling Spinoza) and others might give this the appearance of an illustrated abridgement of that work. Yet Spinoza is more of a springboard, as Berger delves deeply into the processes of making and responding to art, of thinking and being, of narrative and history, of the essence of humanity. Taking inspiration from the possibility of a Spinoza sketchbook, the author “began to make drawings prompted by something asking to be drawn.” In the process, he began to focus on what he drew and why he drew, connecting the creation of art to everything from philosophy to politics to religion. Each of the prose pieces—some as short as a paragraph, few longer than a couple of pages—is self-contained, yet this volume isn’t exactly a collection of essays, for none are titled and all are thematically interconnected as well. Whether he’s extending an analogy that compares making a drawing to riding a motorbike or discusses storytelling in a manner that could apply just as well to drawing (“In following a story, we follow a storyteller, or, more precisely, we follow the trajectory of a storyteller’s attention, what it notices and what it ignores…”), he makes such interaction and interconnection seem central to the human condition.

Berger’s readers will see with fresh eyes.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-37995-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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