Engaging, accessible, and informative.



A lively collective portrait of daring intellectuals.

In this second volume of a planned trilogy on the history of philosophy, former Economist executive editor Gottlieb (The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, 2001, etc.) examines influential thinkers from the 1630s to the late 18th century, including Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and two “unlikely bedfellows” buried opposite one another in the crypt of the Panthéon in Paris: Voltaire and Rousseau. Surprisingly to some, writes Gottlieb, “all these men were amateurs” who questioned the implications of new scientific and religious ideas for self and society. The well-born Descartes was “fascinated by machines and all kinds of mechanical contraptions.” Hobbes, “the most vilified thinker in Britain,” was an irascible man whose writings included “tirades against Aristotle and scholasticism” and attacks on academics and theologians. “Above all,” writes Gottlieb, “it was probably Hobbes’s materialism…that made him an anathema.” Like Descartes, Hobbes regarded nature as a machine, but he took the idea further, maintaining “that absolutely everything is physical.” Gottlieb sees much of Hobbes in the works of Locke and Hume, as well. Spinoza, excommunicated from the synagogue, “treated the Bible as a collection of documents that reveal as much about their authors as about anything else,” best examined “with the tools of a literary critic and historian.” Locke, according to Gottlieb, laid down the precepts of British empiricism, whose later exemplars included John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, and A.J. Ayer. Pierre Bayle, a French philosophy professor, argued against religious superstitions such as the belief that comets were divine warnings, and his work focused on religious tolerance and “the so-called problem of evil.” Gottlieb reveals how his subjects were esteemed or derided by their contemporaries and also how their ideas filtered down to later generations. The Enlightenment, the author convincingly asserts, set the ground for toleration of religious dissent, scientific progress, and the dismantling of feudalism.

Engaging, accessible, and informative.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-87140-443-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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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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