Fresh, iconoclastic, stimulating debates.



A valiant attempt to provoke philosophical questions about identity and purpose in unlikely hotspots.

Over the course of a few years, Fraenkel (Philosophy and Religion/McGill Univ.; Philosophical Religions from Plato to Spinoza: Reason, Religion, and Autonomy, 2013, etc.) took philosophical conundrums outside the confines of academia to test whether questions about morality and politics taught by Plato and Maimonides could be relevant to people in enduring conflict—e.g., Palestinians and Israelis, orthodox practitioners both Muslim and Jewish, Afro-Brazilian youth, and indigenous Mohawk. Between 2006 and 2011, Fraenkel, who is Jewish and speaks Arabic, held workshops among these groups, and he chronicles in abbreviated essays how the discussions proliferated, with himself constantly taking on the role of Socratic interlocutor. At his seminar at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, he discussed how the “examined life” advocated by Socrates in Plato’s Apology can apply to notions of justice authorized by Islam or Judaism. In Makassar, Indonesia, the author stimulated conversation about democracy—a rather new concept in that once-authoritarian, Muslim-dominated country—and whether it is just a Western import. Among a group of Hasidic Jews in New York City who were questioning their childhood faith, Fraenkel read 11th-century Muslim thinker Al-Ghazali’s Deliverance from Error, in which the author describes his own loss of faith. Reading these texts, such as Maimonides’ The Guide for the Perplexed, is prohibited in their community, and thus offers the students the thrill of leading a “double life.” In Brazil, where teaching philosophy in high school is now mandatory, Fraenkel plunged into received notions of justice and equality in a deeply unequal nation. Among the Mohawk of the Akwesasne reserve, near Montreal, the author tried to endow his students with tools for discussing how to reconcile tradition and modernity and what it means to “live well.” Above all, the author endorses the questioning of “bonds of authority” and “inherited beliefs.”

Fresh, iconoclastic, stimulating debates.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-15103-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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