Audacious anthropological speculation by Young (Literature/Univ. of Essex, England), who traces humanity's spiritual practices back to the ancients and beyond in an attempt to ``heal the rift that opened in the Western soul some 400 years ago when science and religion went their separate ways.'' Decrying today's scientism, or ``science as religion,'' Young calls for a return to ``foundations''—the mythological roots of our understanding of the universe. Most daringly, he looks to the behavior of apes for clues to ``the animal base from which all man's higher activities arise.'' Relying on the work of Jane Goodall and others, Young finds that ``the opening'' toward ``the beginnings of human perplexity'' arose when a chimp first prodded the corpse of another chimp and was puzzled; that ritual arose to help regulate chimp pecking-order; and that love, or at least self- consciousness, may have arisen as a result of brachiation, which physically allowed apes and then hominids to face one another directly. Young then follows the evolution of these potentialities as early man moved onto the savannah, where ``alpha-shaman,'' who united temporal and magical powers, split into alpha and shaman— the template for the 16th-century rift between science and religion and indeed perhaps for all history, since ``at the mythic center of virtually every culture is the story of the hero, and the hero looks like alpha-shaman, who may save both himself and us by refusing to be split in two.'' The remainder of Young's erudite argument basically traces the ways early humanity, up through the Greeks, came to terms with that split—a wide-ranging survey that touches upon, among other concerns, the symbolism of various animals, blood sacrifice, the mythic underpinnings and meanings of Genesis and the Odyssey, and, in an appendix, the etymologies of various words relating to the sacred. A dazzling exposition, intellectually demanding but lightened by lively prose, that goes far to establish Young as the Joseph Campbell of the Nineties. (Line drawings—not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-312-06432-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1991

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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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