A searching and learned response to vexing, long-debated questions.

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STRANGE TOOLS

ART AND HUMAN NATURE

Art as communication, transaction, and philosophy.

In a stimulating and wide-ranging investigation of the meaning of art, Noë (Philosophy/Univ. of California; Varieties of Presence, 2012, etc.) acknowledges the complexity of his questions: “What is Art? Why does it matter to us? What does it tell us about ourselves?” The author likens art to philosophy: both are practices that ask us to examine how we organize ourselves and open up the possibility for reorganization. Art, he writes, “investigates or exposes by destabilizing.” Like John Dewey, whose Art as Experience (1934) he repeatedly evokes, Noë believes that the “aesthetic attitude is thoughtful and inquiring…natural and universal.” The author is skeptical of both evolutionary and neuroscientific perspectives that posit biological or materialist theories about art, both of which he sees as reductionist. Evolutionary theories, Noë argues, “tend to be empty. They don’t tell us why we make art or why art is valuable for us. They don’t bring the art in art into focus.” As a researcher and member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences at the University of California, he feels “skeptical of the prospects for an empirical neuroscience of art,” since responses to art are never merely emotional but rather “more like judgments…shaped by our knowledge and background and experience and the larger culture and shared attitudes.” Noë sees technology as the precondition of art. Humans “are designers by nature” for whom technology extends into language and picture making. Writing enables communication but also shapes thought. Pictures, too, “are moves or gestures in a familiar communication game,” but Noë distinguishes between functional design and art, which provokes because it is strange and subversive. Every work of art—including music, dance, and the visual arts—“propositions you to see it, to comprehend it…to reorganize, and also to catch yourself in the act.”

A searching and learned response to vexing, long-debated questions.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8090-8917-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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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 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

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The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION

The creator and host of the titular podcast recounts his lifelong struggles with depression.

With the increasing success of his podcast, Moe, a longtime radio personality and author whose books include The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton: A Parody (2015), was encouraged to open up further about his own battles with depression and delve deeper into characteristics of the disease itself. Moe writes about how he has struggled with depression throughout his life, and he recounts similar experiences from the various people he has interviewed in the past, many of whom are high-profile entertainers and writers—e.g. Dick Cavett and Andy Richter, novelist John Green. The narrative unfolds in a fairly linear fashion, and the author relates his family’s long history with depression and substance abuse. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers was a drug addict. Moe tracks how he came to recognize his own signs of depression while in middle school, as he experienced the travails of OCD and social anxiety. These early chapters alternate with brief thematic “According to THWoD” sections that expand on his experiences, providing relevant anecdotal stories from some of his podcast guests. In this early section of the book, the author sometimes rambles. Though his experiences as an adolescent are accessible, he provides too many long examples, overstating his message, and some of the humor feels forced. What may sound naturally breezy in his podcast interviews doesn’t always strike the same note on the written page. The narrative gains considerable momentum when Moe shifts into his adult years and the challenges of balancing family and career while also confronting the devastating loss of his brother from suicide. As he grieved, he writes, his depression caused him to experience “a salad of regret, anger, confusion, and horror.” Here, the author focuses more attention on the origins and evolution of his series, stories that prove compelling as well.

The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20928-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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