Framed as an “autobiography” full of deliberate fictional creations, this life of Pragmatism’s founding genius is a breathtakingly original attempt to reinvent the dry habitudes of biography. Unfortunately, it is also an epic, perplexing failure. The first of an anticipated three volumes, this account takes us, in a jittering, wildly idiosyncratic way, through the first 28 years (childhood and schooling) of Peirce’s life. In the frame-tale manner so popular in the 19th-century novel, Ketner (Philosophy/Texas Tech Univ., A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy, not reviewed) has created a labyrinth of multiple narrations. First off, there is fictional interpolator Ike Eisenstaat, a writer of detective stories. Digging through a box that his wife, Betsey Darbey, inherited, he comes across Peirce’s fragmentary autobiography, which he then proceeds to flesh out with additional notes, anecdotes, commentary, etc. Then there are the explications of Peirce’s philosophy, provided by his centenarian student, LeRoi Wyttynys. The autobiography as such consists of Ketner’s clever, but impossibly fragmentary, compilation and distillation of autobiographical snippets from Peirce’s various writings. Peirce was one of the 19th century’s great minds; his influence on everything from philosophy to semiotics has been enormous. But he is not well served here. The general effect is confusion and tedium. Ketner knows his subject almost too well, forgetting that the general reader, especially given the complexity of Peirce’s thought, needs a more straightforward grounding, at least intermittently. The author does dig up some interesting tidbits, including a secret first marriage, and convincingly traces, as much as his disjointed structure allows, the early beginnings of Peirce’s ideas. But as much as one wants to salute this audacious project, Ketner’s style, sensibility, and methodology don—t rise to the occasion, begging the ultimate question, “Why?” (20 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8265-1313-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Vanderbilt Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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