Barber (Political Science/Rutgers Univ.; Liberating Feminism, 1974, etc.) tries to steer a middle course between radical democratic reformers of higher education and equally radical defenders of traditional pedagogy by linking the well-publicized crisis in higher education to a deeper crisis in American democracy. Describing his book as ``two-fifths analysis, two-fifths criticism, and one-tenth polemic,'' Barber saves his sharpest writing for reformers urging multiculturalism and a postmodern suspicion of institutions, on the one hand, and neoconservative defenders of traditional canons and their aristocratic values on the other. Leftist inheritors of Sixties radicalism extol democratic educational values at the cost of stigmatizing excellence; embattled elitists like Allan Bloom (for whom Barber reserves his most impassioned critique) follow Plato and Ortega y Gasset in prizing excellence above democracy and casting grave suspicion on equality of opportunity for the masses. But the choice between democracy and achievement, Barber argues, is a false dilemma to anyone who acknowledges that American democracy has always been historically multicultural and dedicated in principle to ideals of equality through elevation, not leveling down. Barber's specific proposals are highly variable. His belief that we should teach history as the primary pedagogical discipline is provocative; his defense of ``loose canons,'' an awareness that literary canons are always evolving, is already a platitude; his suggestion that colleges adopt Rutgers's experimental program to link liberal education more closely to community service promises more in theory than Rutgers's modest actual program seems to warrant. Though his writing is often so oracularly balanced and hedged with qualifications (``If the story of our past is too rigid, we are impaled on it; but if it is too pliant, it fails to define us'') that it seems impossible to use to tell the truth, Barber provides plenty of well-turned ammunition against extremists of every stripe—if less conviction that American democracy can afford them a common ground of action.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-345-37040-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992

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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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