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Subtitled as a “handbook,” this is minor work from an author known for her range and depth.

The author’s spirituality pays fewer redemptive dividends than usual in a follow-up guide that falls short of its predecessor.

Lamott is a much-beloved writer whose distinctive combination of deep spirituality and wry, post-hippie humor has highlighted work ranging from memoir to fiction to an engagingly intuitive writing guide (Bird by Bird, 1995). Her most recent book, the prayer guide Help, Thanks, Wow (2012) became a best-seller, and she frames this successor as a companion volume. Yet the format doesn’t work as well for a book that’s more like the flip side of the previous book’s coin. It’s kind of a spiritual self-help book on how to handle tough times and persevere even when it’s difficult to discern any cosmic order in the chaos of life. However, this book serves more as an extended metaphor about how stitching things up, even patchwork-style, can help one cope. “We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky,” writes the author. “If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching.” The perspective reinforces the recovering alcoholic’s one-day-at-a-time experience, and the metaphor threads throughout this slim book. It’s not surprising that a book about persevering in the wake of tragedy, either global or personal, might have less of the author’s humor than her other work, but what’s mainly missing in comparison with her treatment of similar themes in longer books is the more deeply personal experience. Except for chapters on being a sensitive child in an alcoholic household and mourning a friend who died too young, she seems to skim the surface with elliptical anecdotes and homilies such as “we do what we can, as well as we can” and “life [is] erratic, beautiful and impossible.”

Subtitled as a “handbook,” this is minor work from an author known for her range and depth.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59463-258-7

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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