From Fern†ndez-Armesto (Modern History/Oxford Univ.; Reformations, 1997, etc.), a thoughtful and incisive meditation on the historical development of the concept of truth, and on its uncertain future. Fern†ndez-Armesto asserts that to an unprecedented and dangerous degree, our society has abandoned the pursuit of truth, “a long-standing, widely shared project of mankind.” His hope here is to explore this modern predicament and suggest that the quest for truth is not dead, despite the conflict between religious fundamentalists who claim to know all truth and secular nihilists who think it can never be known. The author illuminates this theme by sketching the development of four basic epistemological categories: (1) the “truth you feel,” characteristic of primitive society, in which emotions and nonsensory or nonrational kinds of perception convey truth; (2) the “truth you are told,” important in archaic society, in which truth flows from oracular, divinatory, or scriptural sources of authority; (3) the “truth you think for yourself,— or deductive or rationalist methods of pursuing truth, which evolved from ancient origins to reach an apex of prestige in the 17th and 18th centuries; and (4) the “truth you perceive through your senses,” or that derived from direct perceptual experience, which is dominant today. All four, Fern†ndez-Armesto argues, have always been around, though the ascendancy of the fourth is a relatively recent phenomenon. Examining the modern abandonment of truth in the humanities and the growth of relativism in our culture, which he views as ominous developments, he urges a return to traditional approaches to truth and advocates “hounding subjectivism and relativism until truth is run to earth.” Fern†ndez-Armesto’s profound analysis of a crisis that pervades both the academy and the larger world points a way beyond the timid equivocations of our time.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-24253-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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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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