A brief look at the idea of human exceptionalism, resonant with conspiratorial anxiety.



A critical assessment of the doom ostensibly advocated by the speculative and apocalyptic thinking of anti- and transhumanists.

According to Kirsch, a poet and literary critic, the continued existence of the human species is threatened by two contemporary strands of thought. One involves a radical faction of the Anthropocene crowd, which views human dominance over and exploitation of nature as an existential catastrophe in the making. For them, climate change requires the removal of humans through, for example, policies that drastically shrink human settlements to leave most of the Earth devoid of human habitation or that reduce the birth rate to zero. “The idea that we will destroy ourselves by despoiling the planet is…radically unsettling,” writes the author. “It means that humanity is endangered not only by our acknowledged vices, such as hatred and violence, but by pursuing aims that we ordinarily consider good and natural: prosperity, comfort, increase of our kind.” The other is a brand of transhumanism wedded to digital technologies able to generate “new forms of intelligent life,” thereby freeing post-humans of their material needs. Both strands assert that “the only way to restore the sovereignty of nature is for human civilization to collapse.” In essence, these thinkers “attack the very achievements that humanists cherish,” and their goal is “a world without us.” Alarmist in tone and selective in its reading of the literature—the author rightly includes Elizabeth Kolbert, Naomi Klein, Michio Kaku, and Ray Kurzweil, but where is Bruno Latour’s canonical We Have Never Been Modern?—this short book takes scenarios that Kirsch admits are “necessarily speculative” and casts them as real forces having “the power to change the world.” The author fails to acknowledge that the central thrust of the Anthropocene argument is to imagine and bring about a better humanity (because it’s shared), not to engender a revolt against it. Acknowledging this, though, would cast further doubt on an already one-sided argument.

A brief look at the idea of human exceptionalism, resonant with conspiratorial anxiety.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-735-91376-6

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Even if they're pie-in-the-sky exercises, Sanders’ pitched arguments bear consideration by nonbillionaires.


Everyone’s favorite avuncular socialist sends up a rousing call to remake the American way of doing business.

“In the twenty-first century we can end the vicious dog-eat-dog economy in which the vast majority struggle to survive,” writes Sanders, “while a handful of billionaires have more wealth than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes.” With that statement, the author updates an argument as old as Marx and Proudhon. In a nice play on words, he condemns “the uber-capitalist system under which we live,” showing how it benefits only the slimmest slice of the few while imposing undue burdens on everyone else. Along the way, Sanders notes that resentment over this inequality was powerful fuel for the disastrous Trump administration, since the Democratic Party thoughtlessly largely abandoned underprivileged voters in favor of “wealthy campaign contributors and the ‘beautiful people.’ ” The author looks squarely at Jeff Bezos, whose company “paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018.” Indeed, writes Sanders, “Bezos is the embodiment of the extreme corporate greed that shapes our times.” Aside from a few passages putting a face to avarice, Sanders lays forth a well-reasoned platform of programs to retool the American economy for greater equity, including investment in education and taking seriously a progressive (in all senses) corporate and personal taxation system to make the rich pay their fair share. In the end, he urges, “We must stop being afraid to call out capitalism and demand fundamental change to a corrupt and rigged system.” One wonders if this firebrand of a manifesto is the opening gambit in still another Sanders run for the presidency. If it is, well, the plutocrats might want to take cover for the duration.

Even if they're pie-in-the-sky exercises, Sanders’ pitched arguments bear consideration by nonbillionaires.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593238714

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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