LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP

Rambling prognostications on modern manners from the late Chicago curmudgeon whose previous salvos (Giants and Dwarfs, 1990; The Closing of the American Mind, 1987) left nearly every academic dean in the country reaching for his or her revolver. ``This book,'' begins Bloom, ``is an attempt to recover the power, the danger, and the beauty of eros under the tutelage of its proper teachers and knowers, the poets.'' So far, so good. Bloom looks out on the wreckage of modern social life—the lost marriage of his colleagues, the loveless couplings of his students, the thorough devaluation of domestic life and privacy—and states the obvious fact that something has gone seriously awry. We cannot love properly today, according to Bloom, because we have lost the proper words: The classical conception of love was essentially sacrificial and heroic, whereas the modern mind cannot envision human relations as anything other than as a contractual agreement. We are shown some examples of the Real Thing as it appeared in Shakespeare, Stendahl, Austen, Flaubert, and Tolstoy—and are given a close reading of Rousseau, whose notion of the Social Contract planted the seeds for much of our later troubles—but it's hard not to feel that Bloom's critique is short-circuited by his spleen, causing it to degenerate into a screed after the first hundred pages or so. His literary exegeses are provocative and subtle but not entirely germane (they carry the heavy odor of leftover notes that found a new life), and the real thesis of the book is hard to pin down. Bloom can set himself up very well (especially when his targets are so easy), but he fails to ask the question that his entire argument begs: Why did the classical view, for all its virtues, fail to sustain itself? That could have brought out the book that Bloom really wanted to write. Good in parts, but lacking a whole.

Pub Date: June 22, 1993

ISBN: 0-671-67336-X

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

Did you like this book?

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more