A fastidiously logical look at some paradoxes of suffering. ``Suffering: it is dirty work, but sometimes there are spiritual profits to be gained.'' Spelman (Philosophy/Smith Coll.) goes at her subject from varied points of view—including Platonic and Aristotelian approaches, those of suffragists and of contemporary feminists—in this concise and selective analytical survey. In one chapter she considers the implications of art that portrays sufferers and suffering, and revisits dance critic Arlene Croce's controversial condemnation in the New Yorker a few years ago of Bill T. Jones's dance about AIDS, Still/Here—which Croce chose not to see. Spelman observes: ``Croce is right: she didn't need to see the dance to say what she had to say. But to many who actually saw the dance, she in fact needed not to see the dance to say what she had to say.'' In a chapter that explores cruelty to women by other women, Spelman exposes with useful candor a problem seemingly suppressed by most feminists. ``The history of women's inhumanity to women is a shameful aspect of the history of women,'' she writes. Though her contextual arguments are carefully waged, lay readers may especially appreciate the insights that emerge more loosely, by the by, and are accessible to almost anyone who has suffered: ``Tragedies,'' Spelman remarks, ``do not simply require the pain of innocent victims produced by the flaws of an otherwise good person; they suggest that this is a cost that can perhaps be redeemed by the insight it gives us about the human condition.'' Comments like this give the faithful reader, occasionally numbed by the writer's dryness of tone, something unequivocal to keep hold of. If understanding suffering could make it go away, then Spelman's book would become a bestseller.

Pub Date: July 28, 1997

ISBN: 0-8070-1420-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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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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