Lively and accessible—of broad interest to readers in philosophy, economics, political science, and other disciplines.



Affecting story of the friendship, intellectual and personal, of David Hume and Adam Smith, two of the greatest exponents of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Both Hume and Smith were controversial in their day, writes Rasmussen (Political Science/Tufts Univ.; The Pragmatic Enlightenment: Recovering the Liberalism of Hume, Smith, Montesquieu, and Voltaire, 2013, etc.), and not just for the scandalous lack of religiosity for which the former was especially known. Perhaps a touch more pious, Smith earned a share of trouble for having described “the cheerfulness and equanimity of Hume’s final days,” during which, the good burghers of Edinburgh were betting, he would turn to God. It didn’t happen. Basing his account in part on the letters Hume and Smith exchanged, Rasmussen builds an intellectual biography in which the two evolve from “Dear Smith” and “Dear Hume” to “My Dearest Friend”—that last “an epithet that neither of them used with any other correspondent during the course of their friendship.” That friendship extended across two fruitful decades of Scotland’s golden age, and Rasmussen wisely does not attempt any presentist shoehorning of Hume as philosopher and Smith as economist but instead allows them the full range of pursuits across many fields. For example, though Hume today is well-known for forays into epistemology, Rasmussen writes discerningly of his “last major literary undertaking,” a multivolume history of England. (There is a small irony in Hume’s dislike of the English, for which reason we find Smith cajoling Hume to move to England with him: “Let us make short excursions together sometimes to see our friends in France and sometimes to see our friends in Scotland, but let London be the place of our ordinary residence.”) Though Rasmussen offers plenty of insights into the personalities of the two, it is their ideas that endure—and that dominate this fine book, touching on morality, mind, and, yes, market.

Lively and accessible—of broad interest to readers in philosophy, economics, political science, and other disciplines.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-17701-4

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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