THE LIFE OF THE MIND

VOL. I; THINKING. VOL. II; WILLING

This book may sound forbidding, but do not be dissuaded, for it is a majestic work of deep humility and earnestness, and radiant imagination. Since it consists of Arendt's Gifford Lectures (1973-74), it retains much of the directness of spoken prose, and, as edited by Mary McCarthy (who contributes an afterword), it is fluent and felicitously phrased. Taking as her subject the three principal activities of mind—Thinking, Willing, Judging (having examined the practical life of Labor, Work, and Action in The Human Condition) she draws with studious care and far-reaching erudition from the history of ideas to argue the necessity of Thinking and to chart the rise and fall of Willing in Western culture. (Judging is addressed directly only in a fragment at the end.) Arendt's reflections were originally prompted by the Eichmann trial, which had disclosed to her a man whose hideous actions had arisen from sheer thoughtlessness. Thinking does not itself create morality or grasp truth or knowledge, but it breeds the self-consciousness that makes them possible. Hence, Thinking is the indispensable source of meaning in experience, and philosophers ignore this who "mistake the need to think with the urge to know" and thus dismiss all thought that cannot produce scientific Truths. Kant alone saw the decisive difference between reason-thinking-essences-meaning on the one hand and cognition-knowledge-appearances-truth on the other; and Socrates had set the ruling moral precedent; the thoughtless life has no meaning. This elegant and moving meditation on the imperatives of critical thought passes into a more strenuous dialogue with the great thinkers on the nature and history of Will. Locating the discovery of Will in Christianity's struggles with sin, Arendt sees Will rise with the belief in progress and then fade with the denial of progress, freedom, and self-assertion in Nietzsche and Heidegger. Although she advocates thinking and free will, Arendt sheds no tears over the tough secularity of modern thought. And these explorations of the life of mind perfectly exemplify the vigorous life that she praises—most pertinently and accessibly in Volume One.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 1977

ISBN: 0156519925

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1977

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more