What makes someone a guru (the Sanskrit word originally meant ``one who brings light out of darkness'')? Why are some gurus particularly dangerous? This thoughtful and engaging book provides answers and a host of interesting insights. Storr, a British psychologist who teaches at Oxford and has written a number of well-received books (Solitude, 1988; Music and the Mind, 1992, etc.), profiles religious or cult gurus (including Ignatius of Loyola, Georgei Gurdjieff, Rudolf Steiner, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Jim Jones, and David Koresh) and two intellectual ones, Freud and Jung. As his title and his choice of subjects in the first category reveal, he views most gurus as being emotionally unbalanced and possessing many highly unappealing qualities: They tend to be loners, have experienced profound psychological crises (sometimes involving psychosis), and generally relate poorly to others. Most are arrogantly self-certain and otherwise highly narcissistic, even grandiose; some tend to be paranoid while others, such as Rajneesh and Koresh, are materially or sexually exploitative of others. In the last third of his analysis Storr approaches his subject thematically, comparing gurus both to those who are scientifically or artistically creative, and to the mentally ill, particularly schizophrenics. In his wide-ranging, unabashedly antiguru final chapter, he engages in a fascinating if frustratingly brief contrast of the ``charisma of power'' and the ``charisma of certainty'' with the more benevolent ``charisma of goodness.'' It is unfortunate that Storr does not write about more appealing gurus in the latter category (he mentions only a few figures in passing), and also that he does not choose Jewish or Islamic gurus (the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Ayatollah Khomeini come to mind) or political gurus (Storr does allude briefly to Lenin, Churchill, and de Gaulle). However, what he has focused on still provides an extremely useful and for the most part well-crafted introduction to an intriguing and important subject.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-82818-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1996

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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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