Written in unfailingly clear and concise prose, this challenge to basic assumptions about human nature points the way toward...



This second book in a three-part series sets forth the premise that human beings are naturally social and cooperative, and that they can take practical steps each day to ground their thoughts, feelings and actions in an ethic that promotes well-being for all.

In a world seemingly overrun with violence and based on a Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest, how can one possibly operate from a standpoint of not only causing no harm but of actively encouraging beneficial outcomes for others? Riddle never claims it will be easy. She acknowledges that we live in a universe that “encourages us to focus on self-interest and to live from a fear-based myth of scarcity” that makes it difficult to even imagine a world where causing harm is no longer the norm. But as much as the author is an idealist dedicated to the betterment of humankind, she is equally pragmatic and dedicates most of her book to offering numerous exercises and daily practices that people can follow as they seek to consistently develop a habit of harmlessness. The one downside to Riddle’s work appears in “Part Two, Immersion in Harmlessness—The Butterfly Shift,” where Riddle’s fondness for minutia becomes overwhelming. Her step-by-step instructions take up a third of the book and seem excessively scripted. It seems unlikely that, in our daily interactions with others, we can realistically be expected to assess the difference between a compassionate shift, a grateful shift or a joyous shift while we simultaneously choose the best recipient of our attention, leverage our emotions and review our action options, all with an aim of creating an optimal mini-immersion experience in harmlessness. Riddle is at her most accessible when she reveals how fully awash we are in a culture that values the individual over the group to the point where we have come to conceive of human development as a solitary experience rather than a lifetime of interactions with others.

Written in unfailingly clear and concise prose, this challenge to basic assumptions about human nature points the way toward a kinder, gentler world.

Pub Date: June 24, 2010

ISBN: 978-1452036328

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2010

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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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.


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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