Delivers an intriguing look at a fragmented mind; but this serious philosophical and scientific subject needs a more...

LIFE OF THE SAILOR

PSYCHOLOGY OF WHO WE ARE

A psychologist explores the human psyche’s tendency toward fragmentation and a plan to restore a healthy self. 

In this debut book, Litvin argues that the human psyche tends, often as a response to trauma, to shatter into disjointed parts. This can be a normal and even salutary psychological mechanism, especially when employed to defensively sequester the mind from overwhelming pain. But the mind can overreact to distress, leading to a self so addled with internal fissures that unhappiness, anxiety, confusion, and a deficit of self-esteem can ensue. Fortunately, the author contends, the splintering of one’s self can be remedied by establishing a dialogue between the parts, hence producing a “congruence” that results in the harmony of a “Utopian collective”: “The solid identity is a unique structure of the psyche where the fragments are aligned together in common goals and attitude.” In order to illustrate his chief points, Litvin concocts a fictional case study that chronicles the life of soldier Stepan Kryvoruchko, who fled the authoritarian ideology of the Soviet Union and suffered from a “shattered identity” as a consequence. The author vividly personifies the scattered shards of Stepan’s mind, and the process whereby he heals destructive “splitting” through a reconstructive unification. Litvin compellingly assesses the political dimension of his theory, and the “virus of radicalization” that can infect both individuals as well as body politics. He also includes helpful literary analogies, drawing a connection between his critique of totalitarian collectivism and Dostoyevsky’s novelistic dissection of the issue. The author’s intentions are breathtakingly ambitious: a comprehensive account of the human psyche, replete with a substantive vision of self-actualization. But the book is surprisingly unempirical for a psychological treatise—the author cites no experimental studies in his main text (some are listed in the Bibliography), and offers declarative assertions in place of careful arguments. In addition, the issue of the psyche’s fracturing into warring parts has a long philosophical pedigree as well, a history of thought Litvin mentions only in passing.

Delivers an intriguing look at a fragmented mind; but this serious philosophical and scientific subject needs a more rigorous treatment.

Pub Date: May 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4502-1905-1

Page Count: 228

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 4, 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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