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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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