An edited transcript of lectures recorded by the BBC in 1966—67, this book is editor Hardy’s (one of Isaiah Berlin’s literary trustees) commendable effort to preserve the legacy of one of the most prominent thinkers of the 20th century. Berlin searches for the sources of Romanticism primarily in Germany, focusing on Hamann, Kant, Herder, Fichte, Schiller, Schlegel, and others who contributed to the rise of the movement at the end of the 18th century. This break in European consciousness led to the replacement of Enlightenment-era objective criteria in the evaluation of human reason and beauty with individualistic, relativist, and mystical Romantic views. Proponents of Romanticism advocated the rejection of aesthetic rules, believed in emotionalism and the liberating function of art, and craved the infinite as embodied in myths. For them, the creative process entailed delving into the artist’s unconscious, and they espoused the idea that will, not reason, dominates life. Berlin points out the complexity of Romanticism, which embraces an infinite array of potentially conflicting aspects. He considers the obvious paradox between the valorization of the noble savage on the one hand, and the whimsical Gothic taste for extravagance and mysticism on the other. Both tendencies, however, reflected the Romantic urge to transgress the boundaries of dull, everyday existence by pointing to some unattainable, exotic reality. Among the offshoots of the Romantic worldview, Berlin mentions two powerful 20th-century phenomena: existentialism and fascism. Existentialism was rooted in the extreme Romantic view of the universe as void, while fascism can be traced back to Fichte’s patriotic diatribe calling upon the “younger, vigorous” German nation to conquer weaker, “decadent people.” Besides occasional plot summaries of prose works, Berlin does not illustrate his views with actual Romantic texts. His survey of Romanticism remains a fairly dry but exacting account of the ideas underlying the movement’s aesthetic sensibilities. Complicated by uneven syntax and repetitiousness betraying the genre of oral presentation, the book is a challenge even to the dedicated reader.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-691-00713-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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