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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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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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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