A book that should be on every thinking person’s shelf—the perfect primer for anyone interested in the development of...

THE ENLIGHTENMENT

AND WHY IT STILL MATTERS

Pagden (Political Science and History/UCLA; Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West, 2008, etc.) demonstrates the breadth and depth of his knowledge and his impeccable research of the period we refer to as the Enlightenment.

Lest readers are daunted in trying to follow the deep thoughts of the great writers of the 18th century, the author gently explains each outlook, theory and proposal. This was the century of philosophy, but it was also the century when the science of man—i.e., social sciences—came into being. It was Gottfried Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds.” Seeking to define men and their relationships with nature, and especially with each other, led to this scientific revolution; it was an intellectual process, a philosophical project and a social movement. The figures of the period were a combination of skeptics, epicureans and stoics seeking to build a cosmopolitan world of diverse people with common interests. Pagden impressively illustrates the significant discussions that took place as these scientists, historians and other intellectuals tried to fathom man’s nature and subject dogma to reason. Many readers will wonder at what they would give to be present at Baron d’Holbach’s Paris dinner table with Hume, Diderot, Rousseau, D’Alembert and even Ben Franklin as they discussed religion and a nature-centered universe. These storied men of letters dutifully studied the ages of man in his journey from the beginnings of agriculture to the right of property and division of lands. Pagden serves as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide through this “particular intellectual and cultural movement.”

A book that should be on every thinking person’s shelf—the perfect primer for anyone interested in the development of Western civilization.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6068-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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 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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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