A challenging, densely argued, provocative collection.

THINKING WITHOUT A BANISTER

ESSAYS IN UNDERSTANDING, 1953-1975

Cultural and political analysis by a noted and often controversial writer.

By 1953, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) had been recognized as a powerful political theorist whose early writings—collected in Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954—focused largely on understanding and analyzing “a new form of government in the world: totalitarianism.” Although totalitarian dictatorships occupied her thoughts for the rest of her life, this second volume of some 40 essays, interviews, conference presentations, acceptance speeches, letters, and reviews, edited and introduced by Arendt scholar Kohn, reveals a wide focus, including the relationship of theory to practice, American elections, the Cold War, freedom, civic responsibility, and happiness. Arendt defined herself as a thinker, not an actor; at a 1972 conference on “The Work of Hannah Arendt,” she defended herself against objections to her stance: “I would like to know,” asked one participant, “not only what is justice in a world whose injustice we all abhor, but how can the political theorist make us become more committed and more effective in fighting for justice.” Arendt responded that she was committed to arousing thought but not “to indoctrinate.” Most important to her was inspiring intellectual awakening, taking away “banisters from people—their safe guiding lines” and compelling them to think for themselves. Likewise, she refused to align herself with any political position: “the left think I am conservative,” she said, “and the conservatives sometimes think I am left, or I am a maverick or God knows what.” Some essays, such as her reflections on the 1960 presidential election that pitted Kennedy against Nixon, seem unfortunately dated. But in other pieces she emerges as startlingly prescient: in an interview in 1973, for example, she emphasized that a free press is crucial in a democracy. “How can anyone have an opinion who is not informed?” she asked; “if everyone lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore.”

A challenging, densely argued, provocative collection.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4215-7

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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 MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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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