Despite a generous helping of wit and amusing anecdotes, this is not Philosophy for Dummies. Many of the short chapters...


A famous thinker demonstrates how he does his job.

Thinking is hard, writes Dennett (Philosophy/Tufts Univ.; Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, 2006, etc.), who then proceeds to explain how to do it right. He stresses that history’s philosophical giants have relied on vivid, although not necessarily accurate, thought experiments, which he dubs "intuition pumps” (Plato’s Cave, Descartes’ evil demon, Kant’s categorical imperative). Dennett begins with a dozen general-purpose tools, from the popular reductio ad absurdum (examine a statement for preposterous implications) to a warning to watch out for the deepity, a proposition that seems profound only because it’s ambiguous (“Love is just a word”). Having delivered these devices, he goes on to show how they illuminate or, equally often, shoot down arguments on great philosophical subjects such as consciousness, evolution and free will, as well as revealing the thought processes of philosophers themselves, with emphasis on those with whom Dennett disagrees. A well-known materialist, he has no patience with explanations that involve “magic,” whether it is a god who creates everything, an evolutionary structure too complex to result from a natural process or a human mind with secrets beyond the reach of science. Those who deny that one can compare the brain to a gigantic computer don’t understand how computers work. Much of their operation appears genuinely magical but isn’t.

Despite a generous helping of wit and amusing anecdotes, this is not Philosophy for Dummies. Many of the short chapters require close attention and rereading, but those willing to work will come away with a satisfying understanding of how deep thinkers think.

Pub Date: May 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-08206-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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 20, 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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