Rigorous yet readable notes, sketches, and articles that round out a four-volume panorama of the philosophical pantheon. The eminent existential philosopher Jaspers (18831969) died before he could complete this work. Editors Ermarth and Ehrlich have, however, been able to stitch together a coherent book that, in accordance with Jaspers's plan, primarily covers the philosophers whom he termed ``the disturbers'': thinkers for whom doubt and despair loomed large. Jaspers opens with a discussion of Descartes. A disturber in the probing style of his thought, he stands apart, however, insofar as he compartmentalized issues of faith and philosophy. The other disturbers Jaspers characterizes as ``great awakeners.'' Working the boundaries between philosophy and theology, they sought to think man back to some sense of completeness. These include Pascal, whose famous wager for the existence of God Jaspers critiques at some length; Kierkegaard, the great philosopher of faith, over whom Jaspers lingers longest; and Nietzsche, discussed briefly in part as a counterpoint to Kierkegaard. Interestingly, Jaspers includes a chapter on the 18th- century theoretician and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, declaring his work to be exemplary for its critical discernment. In a short section on ``philosophers in other realms,'' such as the sciences, Jaspers discusses the philosophical import and the (in his view) severe limits of Einstein's thought. Max Weber, in contrast, elicits unstinting praise. The book closes with an appreciation of Marx that subsumes a harsh critique of the Marxist style of disputation. Jaspers makes information about philosophers' lives and the dissemination of their works integral to his accounts of their ideas. Thus a sense of history and of human contingency pervade these pieces. Twenty-five years after its author's death, this is by no means a cutting-edge work—but this great thinker's ruminations on his predecessors have a timeless quality to them.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-15-136943-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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 20, 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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