A damp squib from someone who ought to know better.

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LETTERS TO A YOUNG CONTRARIAN

THE ART OF MENTORING

Pretty lame musings that capture but little of Nation columnist Hitchens’s not inconsiderable wit—and even less of his iconoclasm.

Having taught for some years at the New School in New York, Hitchens came upon the idea of composing a kind of ideological testament addressed to the young that would lay out his vision of the good life and offer some advice on how to achieve it. The scheme was inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet—and if you did not expect such a paternal, almost contemplative tone from Hitchens, you are not alone. This is the same man, after all, who has taken potshots at Mother Teresa (The Missionary Position, not reviewed) and Princess Di alike, a “grizzled soixante-huitard” (as he calls himself) to be sure, but one who detested Bill and Hilary Clinton (and delighted in the Lewinsky scandal) every bit as much as Rush Limbaugh did. The sober mask doesn’t suit him, and most of what he lays out here as “contrarian” is strictly village-atheist stuff: the heroics of the solitary dissenter (Rosa Parks, Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the dangers of groupthink (“Beware of identity politics”), the broadening effects of travel, the importance of irony (“It’s the gin in the Campari”), the innocence of Colonel Dreyfus (just in case you wondered), and the universal brotherhood of mankind (“we are one people”). There is also a good deal of name-dropping (“my dear friend Robert Conquest,” “my Chilean friend Ariel Dorfman”) and rather more accounts of the interesting places the author has been than most readers will require. Mercifully, however, Hitchens keeps his eye on the clock and doesn’t go on much longer than most of his articles.

A damp squib from someone who ought to know better.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2001

ISBN: 0-465-03032-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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