Penetrating observations and speculations for scientifically inclined readers.



The renowned neuroscientist delivers a short but definitely not superficial investigation of consciousness, widely but wrongly looked on as mysterious.

Damasio—the chair of neuroscience and professor of psychology, neurology, and philosophy at USC, where he heads the Brain and Creativity Institute—emphasizes that he has no patience with efforts to solve the “hard problem”—i.e., explaining how the mass of neurons in the physical brain generates conscious mental states. His reason: They don’t, at least not by themselves. While the brain plays an indispensable role, it requires input from “non-neural tissues of the organism’s body proper.” At the simplest level, our physical senses provide feelings, and our memory provides context that our sense of self integrates into what we experience as consciousness, which the author defines as “a particular state of mind resulting from a biological process toward which multiple mental events make a contribution,” Feelings, writes Damasio, “provide the mind with facts on the basis of which we know, effortlessly, that whatever else is in the mind, at the moment, also belongs to us. Feelings allow us to experience and become conscious. Homeostatic feelings are the first enablers of consciousness.” Refreshingly for a professor of neuroscience, Damasio writes lucid prose clearly addressed to a popular audience. Even better, the book is concise (180 pages of main text plus notes and references) and helpfully divided into dozens of short chapters—e.g., “The Embarrassment of Viruses,” “Nervous Systems as Afterthoughts of Nature,” “Turning Neural Activity Into Movement and Mind,” “Algorithms in the Kitchen”—many only one or two pages. Make no mistake, however; Damasio is a deep thinker familiar with multiple disciplines, and this is as much a work of philosophy as hard science. Readers familiar with college level psychology and neuroscience will discover rewarding insights, many of which the author covered in his last book, The Strange Order of Things (2018).

Penetrating observations and speculations for scientifically inclined readers.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4755-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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