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A witty critique of scientific overreach that celebrates the totality of human achievement.

White (English/Illinois State Univ.; Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature, 2009 etc.) disputes the triumphalism of neuroscientists, evolutionary psychologists and geneticists who proclaim “the victory of science and reason over religion.”

The author pays particular attention to the writings of Jonah Lehrer, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, all self-professed atheists whom White charges with having encroached on the “domain of philosophy, the arts, and humanities.” As an impassioned social critic, he does not endorse the fundamentalist Christian attack on science, and he argues against what he calls scientism, exemplified by Dawkins' contention that the human mind, social behavior and morality can be explained as the working of selfish genes or their cultural counterpart, memes. Without a “collaboration with art,” he writes, “science is doomed to moral sterility, or to a nihilism that asserts that there are no values.” White goes a step further, charging that this “ideology of sciences meshes with the broader ideology of capitalism” by treating self-interest as primary. He skewers Hitchens as a representative of privilege and entitlement who basked in his sense of cultural superiority and found a convenient scapegoat for unjust wars in the gullibility of religious believers. White also objects to Lehrer's explanation of the role of a brain scan in showing creativity—by showing areas of the brain that are activated when a subject solves a puzzle, creativity is illuminated. This implicitly equates the creativity of Beethoven or Bob Dylan with that of the inventor of Swiffer mops, without regard to the content of their thought or the broader “social context” in which it occurred. While not denying the fascinating advances of modern science, the author stresses the importance of philosophy and other disciplines.

A witty critique of scientific overreach that celebrates the totality of human achievement.

Pub Date: June 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61219-200-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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