A wonderfully accessible philosophic tour de force—lying’s never seemed so virtuous. (For more on the subject, see Evelin...




An unusual and boldly compelling history of deception and the decline of truth.

Simply put, Campbell claims that lying is part of our true nature: “for better or worse, lying, untruth, is not an artificial, deviant, or dispensable feature of life.” In fact, human beings, as supremely conniving as we may like to think ourselves to be, are hardly alone when it comes to the ability to deceive. Taking us back to Darwin, Campbell offers numerous examples of creepy crawlers and fireflies capable of duping would-be predators or foes with a deft change of color or imitation of another species’ flashing signal. If such proclivity to deceive is the norm in survival at the lower end of the animal kingdom, is it not naïve of us to think ourselves as having evolved beyond it? After all, the author points out, some of western culture’s archetypal heroes (like Odysseus and Machiavelli’s Prince) have been deemed such because of their exceptional guile. The argument moves in and out of literal nature and art to chart philosophical trends in truth and deception across the centuries. Starting with Socrates and notions of absolute truth, Campbell examines an impressive array of philosophers (Descartes, Hume, Newton, Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein) who helped an avoidance of untruth evolve into suspicion, distrust, and falsehood becoming valued for the possibilities they open the mind to. He enlivens the heady theoretical discussion with pointed biographical tidbits from the lives of his subjects, as well as pertinent vignettes plucked from the current of human affairs—from Clinton’s survival of the Lewinsky affair to Liberace’s denial of his homosexuality to win a libel suit. Throughout, the prose is as sumptuously engaging as the argument is provocative.

A wonderfully accessible philosophic tour de force—lying’s never seemed so virtuous. (For more on the subject, see Evelin Sullivan, below.)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-02559-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet