ASSUME THE WORST

THE GRADUATION SPEECH YOU'LL NEVER HEAR

Slim but pointed and humorous; a good gift for the neighbor’s kid’s graduation.

Two of the literary world’s most entertaining lighthearted cynics collaborate on a brief text that takes the form of a fake graduation speech.

“It’s pretty fucked up,” writes Hiaasen (Razor Girl, 2016, etc.) early on in the speech, referring to the “real world” that his imaginary graduates are preparing to enter. Accompanied by apt illustrations from New Yorker illustrator Chast (Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, 2017, etc.), winner of the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award, this speech runs through a litany of life’s challenges and obstacles and how to overcome them (“lowering your expectations will inoculate you against serial disappointment”) followed by a shorter closing section in which Hiaasen turns more hopeful. After all, he does want his readers to experience happiness, but happiness is “slippery. It’s unpredictable. It’s a different sensation for everyone.” A good portion of the text discusses our highly divisive society and the prevalence of stupidity—or, more accurately, willful ignorance. Hiaasen is quick to point out that society as a whole may not be dumber than when he graduated college in 1974, but the social and cultural landscape is vastly different. “Society has been deeply divided before,” he writes, “but never has it been so inanely distracted. Don’t be shocked if more Americans can identify all the Kardashian sisters than can find Serbia on a world map.” Global geography aside, there’s no question that technology has shifted our gaze and often warped our perceptions of each other, and the text and illustrations here serve as a quick, amusing snapshot of that situation. Thankfully, underneath all the despair and snark—social media is “a geyser of ominous evidence that our species has begun to de-evolve, receding back to the slime bog from which we first emerged”—are glimmers of optimism, as in most of the work from both Hiaasen and Chast. “One thing happiness is not,” writes Hiaasen, “is overrated.”

Slim but pointed and humorous; a good gift for the neighbor’s kid’s graduation.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-65501-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2018

MASTERY

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Categories:

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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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