An impressive and accessible analysis of 20th-century brutality.

HUMANITY

A MORAL HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

An attempt to formulate a new ethics, based on human psychology, that will account for 20th-century atrocities and offer some realistic hope that they can be avoided in the future.

The mindless carnage of WWI, the totalitarian terror produced by Stalin, Mao Zedong, and the Khmer Rouge, and Hitler’s horrific drive for racial purity make reflections upon the 20th century an often-painful experience. Glover (What Sort of People Should There Be?, not reviewed) suggests looking beyond religious morality or the Enlightenment belief in a natural moral law for useful responses to such human depravity. He argues that a close study of human psychology provides clues about how normal people are led to willfully perpetrate evil on other human beings. The author believes that we are imbued with an innate respect and sympathy for other humans, which normally prevents cruelty between people. The identification of victims as subhuman (usually for ideological or racial reasons), however, manages to break down respect and sympathy—and almost guarantees an unleashing of human tendencies toward destruction and chaos. Glover supports his ideas effectively, with illustrations from most of the major conflicts of the century (including Vietnam, Hiroshima, Rwanda, WWI, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Stalinist Soviet Union, China’s Cultural Revolution, Cambodia, and Nazi Germany). He also suggests that atrocities can be avoided by building a future society that places greater emphasis upon the positive characteristics of sympathy and respect. He thus recreates morality from the ground up, with its intellectual basis now firmly grounded in modern psychology. The author presents his argument for this new psychological morality in accessible, incisive, and provocative prose.

An impressive and accessible analysis of 20th-century brutality.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-300-08700-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

more