This is essentially a guide on how to commit suicide, or alternatively, stage a “safe” suicidal gesture. Stone (who has studied pharmacology at George Washington University Medical School and the National Institutes of Health) offers little background—personal, occupational, educational, familial, religious, or otherwise—which might help readers absorb this work into some kind of useful discussion. Stone does set out his basic premises: first, that it is each person’s right to make decisions concerning his own death, and second, that most decisions to commit suicide “are due to temporary problems and are therefore tragic mistakes.” Stone goes on, in a pragmatic, almost cold-blooded, tone to set out an immense amount of information on suicide and attempted suicide. He delineates four groups of people who attempt to kill themselves: rational people facing an insoluble problem, usually fatal illness; those acting on impulse, temporarily miserable—and often drunk; those who are irrational due to depression, schizophrenia, or alcoholism; and those who are making a desperate bid for attention or help. Stone also looks at issues around terminal illness and euthanasia. In Part II, he explains the following methods of killing oneself: asphyxia, cutting and stabbing, drowning, drugs, chemicals, poisons, electrocution, gunshot, strangulation, hypothermia, and jumping. He includes explicit instructions on how to go about each method, and what the likely physiological damage will be if the attempt fails. Difficult as all this is to take in, there is more—information on how to make a relatively safe suicidal gesture will certainly confound readers, as will descriptions of autopsy results and asides on the strange and various ways people hurt themselves. The technical information here is accurate. But to approach such a stunningly painful, morally loaded, politically hot subject constructively, we need more than information. We need to know who our guide is, how he has come to this place, how and why his view was formed.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7867-0492-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...


Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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