“The world needs more philosophical enthusiasts,” Weiner writes. This book is sure to generate its share.



Passing through middle age and wondering “what matters and what doesn’t,” a journalist undertakes figurative and literal journeys around the world to learn how philosophy might help answer his question.

Not all philosophy is concerned with helping us figure out how to live, but that’s the aspect that interests Weiner, the former New York Times reporter and author of The Geography of Bliss and other works. In joining the long line of writers who have heralded philosophy’s practical possibilities, he takes a place among the more catholic in taste. Sei Shōnagon, a 10th-century Japanese author and courtesan to the empress, has to be among the more surprising (and welcome) additions to the company of the better-known philosophers of ancient Greece, China, and modernity. Unencumbered by ideology, Weiner is free to find his way to philosophers—a designation, as with Shōnagon, he’s happy to apply loosely—who were interested not in the meaning of life but in “leading meaningful lives.” Thoreau teaches him how to see; Nietzsche, how to have no regrets; Shōnagon, how to appreciate the small things; and so on. Weiner’s challenge in these chapters is to give a sufficient overview of his subject while maintaining a brisk pace and distilling useful instruction. Such a globe-trotting tour of philosophy can only be as good as its guide, and Weiner proves to be a curious, sincere, and generous companion. His good cheer alone serves as a model for how to live, and many readers will appreciate his method of taking what’s useful for him and leaving what’s not (Plato, Kant, Sartre, to name a few). Each reader will cotton to certain of Weiner’s philosophers more than others; the author’s example teaches us that this is as it should be. We must all find our own teachers.

“The world needs more philosophical enthusiasts,” Weiner writes. This book is sure to generate its share.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2901-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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