An erudite book that reveals how and why the understanding of consciousness still eludes us.

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SOUL MACHINE

THE INVENTION OF THE MODERN MIND

Throughout Western history, the nature of humans’ inner lives has vexed philosophers, physicians, scientists, and theologians. Makari (Psychiatry/Weill Cornell Medical Coll.; Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis, 2008) offers a thorough examination of debates about soul, spirit, and what we now call “mind.”

The author primarily focuses on 17th- through mid-19th-century British and European thinkers. Is mind, he asks, “a necessary theory, a physical thing, a language game, or a deep-seated prejudice?” Language itself has caused myriad problems. The French, for example, were at a loss to translate John Locke’s choice of words—and invention of neologisms—to represent inner life: “consciousness” and “self-consciousness” were not rendered clearly by terms such as la conscience (implying ethical awareness) and esprit, which signified spirit or soul. Besides Locke, Makari examines major theorists such as Newton, Descartes, Diderot, Voltaire, Hobbes, Bacon, Hegel, and Schelling. While these names may be familiar to readers with a background in intellectual history or philosophy, less familiar figures from Makari’s large cast of characters unfortunately emerge less as fully delineated personalities than as purveyors of abstract ideas. The author creates a lively narrative about Franz Anton Mesmer, the eccentric, egotistical perpetrator of animal magnetism, who captivated many in pre-revolutionary Paris and repelled others who feared that he conceived men as “magnetic machines with no will and therefore no capacity for self-governance or self-knowledge.” Political and social change, the author argues, were intrinsically connected to the acceptance or rejection of various thinkers. “When the French Revolution drove out the Church and the protectors of the soul,” he writes, “a fully formed secular, modern lineage of the mind was waiting, ready to emerge.” Despite advances in neurophysiology and research into mental illness, Makari maintains that we still think of dualities when it comes to mind (“the mind-body problem, the Nature/Nurture problem, free will versus determinism”), a view that many readers will share.

An erudite book that reveals how and why the understanding of consciousness still eludes us.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-05965-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION

The creator and host of the titular podcast recounts his lifelong struggles with depression.

With the increasing success of his podcast, Moe, a longtime radio personality and author whose books include The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton: A Parody (2015), was encouraged to open up further about his own battles with depression and delve deeper into characteristics of the disease itself. Moe writes about how he has struggled with depression throughout his life, and he recounts similar experiences from the various people he has interviewed in the past, many of whom are high-profile entertainers and writers—e.g. Dick Cavett and Andy Richter, novelist John Green. The narrative unfolds in a fairly linear fashion, and the author relates his family’s long history with depression and substance abuse. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers was a drug addict. Moe tracks how he came to recognize his own signs of depression while in middle school, as he experienced the travails of OCD and social anxiety. These early chapters alternate with brief thematic “According to THWoD” sections that expand on his experiences, providing relevant anecdotal stories from some of his podcast guests. In this early section of the book, the author sometimes rambles. Though his experiences as an adolescent are accessible, he provides too many long examples, overstating his message, and some of the humor feels forced. What may sound naturally breezy in his podcast interviews doesn’t always strike the same note on the written page. The narrative gains considerable momentum when Moe shifts into his adult years and the challenges of balancing family and career while also confronting the devastating loss of his brother from suicide. As he grieved, he writes, his depression caused him to experience “a salad of regret, anger, confusion, and horror.” Here, the author focuses more attention on the origins and evolution of his series, stories that prove compelling as well.

The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20928-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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