ECCENTRICS

A STUDY OF SANITY AND STRANGENESS

A neuropsychologist works hard to build an authoritative definition of eccentricity. American-born Weeks, who practices at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, began his study by posting index cards around the city soliciting phone calls from people who thought they might be eccentric. The appeal was picked up by local and national media, and even made the American press, leading Weeks to claim that he has sampled the largest population group ever targeted by a psychologist. If you buy this, then you won't have any trouble with the rest of this frustratingly pedantic study of delightfully quirky people. Weeks's fascination stems from the fact that eccentrics seem to be happier than the rest of us, more secure in their convictions, and often wildly creative. If Weeks and coauthor James (The Music of the Spheres, 1993) would only stick to vivid descriptions of Weeks's astonishing subjectsthe president of the Martin Van Buren fan club, the woman who builds perpetual-motion machines in her garage, or the two Brooklyn artists who live exactly as though it were 1895readers could draw their own conclusions about the boundaries of eccentricity. Instead, Weeks theorizes endlessly, assigning quantitative values to personality traits, language skills, even the class distribution of eccentrics through the ages. He spends far more time on historical oddballs (cross-dressing French revolutionaries and masochistic English lords) than on his own contemporary pool. The inevitable problem, though, is that in order to define what is eccentric, Weeks needs to define what is normal, and that is a feat no scientist has ever achieved. In his conclusion, Weeks proclaims that eccentricity is ``utterly harmless, and a source of decency, tolerance, and respect for different views and different people.'' His insistence on a utopian vision contained in these odd lives is, well, a bit eccentric. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-394-56565-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1995

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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