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A well-meaning paean to self-affirmation.

Confidence in one’s self requires embracing life’s essential mystery.

French philosopher and novelist Pépin, who has extolled beauty, joy, and failure in previous books of popular philosophy, now offers a slim volume on self-confidence, broadly conceived as “confidence in others, confidence in one’s own capabilities, and confidence in life.” Although providing no evidence, the author is certain that we are all experiencing a crisis of self-confidence, caused by our loss of “direct contact with things” and even with “pinpointing our profession.” In one of many sweeping generalizations, he asserts, “being as super-connected as we are puts us all at a remove from basic doing and leaves us few concrete opportunities for developing confidence.” Pépin cites several individuals who seem to exude confidence—Madonna and Serena Williams, for example—to support his contention that having someone who trusts and encourages us builds confidence; so does honing a skill. “Among great artists,” he writes, echoing Malcolm Gladwell, “confidence comes first and above all from constant, devoted, almost obsessional practice.” Pépin, though, is interested in more than confidence in one’s ability. Through perfecting her skill as a tennis player, Williams discovered “what kind of woman she was. She understood she was the kind of person who becomes her truest self in moments of adversity.” As the author expands on his theme, confidence transcends its connection to mastery to mean “surrender” to “cosmos, God, or life.” This spiritual awakening allows us to respond authentically to nature and to beauty, trusting our feelings, with no need for experts’ validation. “Each time we recognize that something is beautiful without reference to external criteria, we are gaining confidence in ourselves,” Pépin writes. “But beauty gives us more than that: it fills us with life force and helps us find our courage.” Although drawing on many canonical writers and philosophers—Emerson, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Kant, and others—Pépin’s message is common to most self-help books: We must celebrate ourselves, “not relative to the value of others.” We are each “solitaire diamonds.”

A well-meaning paean to self-affirmation.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59051-093-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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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

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