Kaplan’s investigation into the ontology of Santa Claus is erudite, readable and exceedingly funny.


The acclaimed comedy writer and co–executive producer of The Big Bang Theory presents a unique and peculiar philosophical inquiry into the belief in Santa Claus.

When Kaplan was approached by the mother of his son’s friend about canceling a trip to the zoo because she was afraid Kaplan’s boy would reveal to her still-believing son that Santa Claus does not exist, he began to think about why this woman would prevent her son from learning the truth. As the author unpacks the woman’s desire to preserve her child’s innocent belief, he became ensnared in the paradox of “trying to come up with a way to engage actively with two opposing realities”: belief in what she wished her son to believe but disbelief because she herself is Santa. Thus the problem of Santa becomes one of self-contradiction, and this type of paradox is a common plague to logicians. However, the attempts of other philosophers to escape this paradox are unsatisfactory to Kaplan, and he explores the mystic tradition as an alternative. In mysticism, paradox is a fundamental tool for understanding how we exist; therefore, it does not rely on practical rationality. Using Buddhism as his primary source, Kaplan explains how self-contradiction could be embraced to justify both the existence of Santa and his nonexistence. But the ever diligent author encounters a similar paradox in mysticism, seemingly justifying a dangerous relativism in which all that is correct is equally incorrect and vice versa. To bridge the paradoxes of logic and mysticism, Kaplan suggests comedy, at least “good” comedy, as a way to “approach the unavoidable contradictions in our life.” (After all, Santa is a jolly fellow.) As he teases out this synthesis, the author’s argument is both thought-provoking and, at times, less than convincing, but he proves to be an engaging thinker whose musings are always provocative.

Kaplan’s investigation into the ontology of Santa Claus is erudite, readable and exceedingly funny.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-525-95439-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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