A stimulating intellectual interaction with lots of heart.



Two writers—one successful, the other still working on it—venture into the woods over the course of four days with one objective in mind: Argue so well that people will want to read about it.

Years ago, before traveling the world and teaching ESL, Powell was a scruffy kid with long hair and a mustache sitting in Shields' writing class, mulling over a life of letters. Flash forward to today, and the same intellectual writer has become a stay-at-home father, but one who still earnestly cultivates his art. The older man, meanwhile, has quietly spent the intervening years maintaining a steady, successful course in academia. So, which one has suffered and sacrificed more for the written word, and which one is the more successful human, effectively managing to keep himself directly involved in the flow of life? The answer to that question represents the heart of the writers’ multifaceted dialogue. Getting there, however, is just as interesting as the two men discuss everything from My Dinner with Andre to sports radio to George W. Bush. They also pepper their discussion with ruthless critiques of each other’s works. While the intellectual discourse is largely dispassionate, it never comes across as bloodless, with both men subtly revealing profound aspects of their souls during the course of their galloping discourse. Of course, they delve deeply into stuffy literary criticism, as well, but that's balanced by a deep sense of how each man feels about fatherhood, friendship, mortality and women. Powell, however, is clearly the engine behind the endeavor, driven in part by the enduring desire for both a mentor’s approval and his further instruction. He also reveals more about his past exploits, which include a harrowing life-and-death episode and an eye-opening adventure with two different amorous “transvestites,” on more than one occasion.

A stimulating intellectual interaction with lots of heart. 

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0385351942

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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