A charming, informative, unique introduction to Western philosophy.



A Londoner and his canine companion consider thorny philosophical questions on their daily walks.

Accompanied by his beloved “scruffy Maltese terrier,” McGowan (The Art of Failing: Notes From the Underdog, 2017, etc.) muses on philosophy and philosophers as they set out on jaunts in and around London’s verdant landscapes. Sauntering across Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, and along the Thames from Richmond to Strawberry Hill, the author responds to Monty’s “earnest, quizzical look” by explaining complex ideas—epistemology, nominalism, empiricism, free will, and many more—in clear, accessible terms and with concrete illustrations to which Monty can relate. Thinking about Kant’s rule-based ethics, for example, the author reminds Monty of the time he stole a cheesecake that lay temptingly on a coffee table. Kant would say, “before you steal the cheesecake, ask: would it be right to universalize that action?” If not, don’t do it. Unraveling difficult concepts of structuralist linguistics, McGowan explains that “the material part is called the signifier, and the mental component is the signified,” which combine to form the sign. “The word DOG is a sign made up of the letters D-O-G, and the idea of a dog." When McGowan gives Monty a sausage, “the sausage is the signifier, the signified is ‘I love you.’" Socrates and Aristotle, Francis Bacon and René Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Locke, John Stuart Mill, Wittgenstein, and Spinoza are among other philosophers featured in McGowan’s discussions, with cameo appearances by “mean, miserable, arrogant” Arthur Schopenhauer; the Franciscan monk William of Ockham; utilitarian Jeremy Bentham; and Thomas Hobbes, who “famously saw life in a state of nature as being a war of all against all.” Organized thematically, the chapters begin with a short recap of what the pair discussed on their last walk, which leads into topics that consider how we know right from wrong, how best to live in a community, how we know what we know, and how to live a good life.

A charming, informative, unique introduction to Western philosophy.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-311-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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