An excellent survey for intermediate students of philosophy and a fine course in self-education for general readers.

THE QUEST FOR A MORAL COMPASS

A GLOBAL HISTORY OF ETHICS

God is dead, says Nietzsche. Nietzsche is dead, says God. Dead or not, Nietzsche is wrong, writes British neurobiologist and philosopher Malik—and so is sophist Thrasymachus, for that matter.

In a text that takes in well-known students of the topic and any number of obscurities (and even obscurantists), the author looks closely into the sticky business of ethics, both as distinct from and as adjunct to morals. In both, he approvingly quotes Alasdair MacIntyre as observing there’s a difference between humans as they are and humans as they could (and should) be. Cultures through time have differed markedly in their conceptions of the latter: The Greeks saw their gods as being “capricious, vain, vicious, and deceitful”—in short, much like us though much more powerful. Their vision of a messy, chaotic, violent world took on a more orderly mien in the worldview of Christians such as Augustine, who, Malik notes, found ways to justify slavery theologically. Malik takes care to distinguish moral universes in which humans are thought to have choice from those in which they do not, matters that feed into clashing ideologies today. Yet, as he writes, agency notwithstanding, all cultures have some notion of right and wrong, and all of us are naked, without protection, and in eminent danger of “falling off the moral tightrope that we are condemned to walk as human beings.” In a text that moves comfortably among cultures, continents and centuries, Malik delivers some of the best of what has been thought about ethical matters and some of the worst as well. Fans of Nietzsche (or perhaps of Leopold and Loeb, for that matter) won’t appreciate some of the author’s conclusions, but Malik is admirably evenhanded in considering the history of ethical thought.

An excellent survey for intermediate students of philosophy and a fine course in self-education for general readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61219-403-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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 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

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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

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