An earnest, didactic manual on doing the right thing, a topic that remains tricky to teach.

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PRACTICAL WISDOM

THE RIGHT WAY TO DO THE RIGHT THING

Swarthmore professors Schwartz (Social Theory; The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, 2004, etc.) and Sharpe (Political Science; co-author: Drug War Politics, 1996, etc.) take note of the paucity of applied sagacity and offer advice on how to retrieve it for a better social order.

The book is a self-help title, but more in-depth and nuanced than most. The authors cite Rousseau, Wittgenstein and other philosophers, as well as Malcolm Gladwell and George Bailey, the hero of It’s a Wonderful Life. Most frequently referenced, however, is Aristotle, who sought “phronesis,” which, we are told, is simply “practical wisdom.” The authors support their common-sense prescriptions with lengthy anecdotes of applied intelligence by physicians, teachers, lawyers and health-care workers. They also advise practitioners in professions like medicine, jurisprudence, education and finance on the proper uses of judgment, ethics, empathy and detachment. The guidance is based on research in the social sciences and psychology, with a few comments touching on epistemology. Schwartz and Sharpe counsel on the role of the “canny outlaw” who, like Robin Hood, disdains the rules for the greater good. Don’t rely on incentives alone, they say, and be happy in your work—in support, they present parables of those who are happy in theirs. Inevitably, there is more than a whiff of pedantry here; pertinent material and apt points tend to get lost in illustrative verbiage and extraneous matter. The conclusion, it seems, is that practical wisdom tells us to eschew greed, be slow to anger, be considerate, be good and think. In short, it’s a call for decency and good behavior.

An earnest, didactic manual on doing the right thing, a topic that remains tricky to teach.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59448-783-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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