A perceptive portrait of an enigmatic thinker.



The 19th-century thinker who inspired existentialists grounded his philosophy in individual experience.

Carlisle, a London-based professor of philosophy and theology, offers an empathetic, well-grounded biography of the Danish philosopher, prolific author, and “spiritual seeker” Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). His overarching question, posed by Socrates and later taken up by 20th-century existentialists, was: “How can I be a human being in the world?” Human nature, Kierkegaard argued, “is not a fixed, timeless essence, nor a biological necessity, but a creative task for each individual life.” His conviction about personal evolution made him suspicious of marriage, the “duties, customs, expectations” required of a husband that might constrain him and impede his ability to express his spiritual life. In addition, he feared being completely open with another person. Once engaged to be married, he ended the relationship rather than reveal to his betrothed the “melancholy, the eternal night brooding,” and the “desires and excesses” that caused him great anxiety. The renouncement haunted him for the rest of his life, as did his relationship with his father, a “forbidding, complex” man whose religious ideas became antithetical to those of his son. The Lutheran Church failed to offer Kierkegaard a sacred refuge. “Does he find any more truth there,” he asked himself, “than in the theatre, or the lecture hall, or the marketplace—or have churches become the least truthful places in Christendom?” For Kierkegaard, the story of Abraham’s journey up and down Mount Moriah became emblematic of “the religious movements—the deep longing for God, the anxious struggle to understand his vocation, the search for an authentic spiritual path—that shaped his own inner life.” Rather than create a conventional chronological narrative, Carlisle moves back and forth in time to underscore how “past and future are vibrant inside us” as she judiciously mines Kierkegaard’s works and considerable scholarship to elucidate the philosopher’s life, mind, and struggles.

A perceptive portrait of an enigmatic thinker.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-23118-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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 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 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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