Thoughtful, elegantly written essays for philosophical ponderers.



In this well-written collection of essays styled as letters to his children and grandchildren, an engineer, businessman and father makes his case for “a rational faith.”

Sayre (Flatland, 2014, etc.) is a man of faith, but not in the traditional religious sense. Rather, the objects of his devotion are truth, freedom, communication and organization. Sayre penned his essays at a variety of venues—a hospital, a prison, MIT, etc.—and weaves his writings around them. His philosophical musings are a pleasure to read, whether he’s visiting a school for the mentally challenged or admiring the architecture of Gloucester Cathedral. In fresh and appealing prose, he describes communication, for instance, as “our means of conveying truth and sharing beauty; it is the infrastructure of love.” Readers might naturally want to know if the author believes in God, and Sayre takes his sweet time getting there; finally, he explains his view—“I recognize that there are millions whose answer lies in their belief in a creative God. I hope they will forgive my inability to accept such a hypothesis without question”—while questioning the traditional God who “allows vast injustice to prevail.” Sayre’s deep commitment to reason appears on nearly every page; sometimes, though, it would be nice to see him lighten up more, especially in parts of the book related to family. Fortunately, Sayre’s dry wit pops up every now and again, and he admits, for example, that he got nervous auditioning for a spot in a quartet and, as he says, his self-improvement efforts at the gym leave something to be desired. He veers into his more technical language only briefly, yet overall, Sayre thinks and writes so carefully about philosophical issues that readers who don’t share his beliefs may find themselves as inspired as those who do.

Thoughtful, elegantly written essays for philosophical ponderers.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1931807821

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Peter E. Randall

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2014

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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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