Some useful insights, oddly afloat in a sea of wishful thinking. Philosopher and former House Budget Committee staff member Segal (Agency and Alienation: A Theory of Human Presence, not reviewed, etc.) joins the chorus of those disgusted with the values of our fast-paced, technologically driven consumer society. He agrees with Aristotle that “the flourishing of our deepest selves” constitutes the good life, rather than the joys of consumption and the reckless pursuit of riches. Segal notes that contemporary economic abundance has not produced universal happiness. He eschews the American tradition of reducing the quest for the good life to an individual’s activity, recognizing that society shapes available choices—and hence the need for a politics as well as a philosophy of ’simple” living. While we spend more on transportation than did any citizen of the last century, for example, this fact cannot be fairly attributed only to our increased appetite for luxury. Social and economic geography (homes and workplaces are no longer located close together) and public policy (an emphasis on road-building, rather than on public transport systems) today demand greater expenditures than ever. Segal builds his politics on this basic insight. When policy decisions are being made, he suggests, those involved ought to consider whether said policies would encourage simple living. Unfortunately, while expanding the potential for such living through policy-making holds an appeal, what’s the likelihood that simple living’s partisans would prevail over more powerful interests? Short of rule by graceful tyrants, Segal’s politics is little more than a pleasant dream. Moreover, his substantive proposals—e.g., eliminating the “worst hassles” of daily life, such as the shortage of salespeople in large department stores—may not produce earth-shaking results. An appealing philosophy but without any well-developed or realistic politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-5679-3

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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