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Evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and polemic combine in an appealing argument for human uniqueness.

An insightful defense of evolution that turns the arguments of creationists against them.

As Miller (Biology/Brown Univ.; Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, 2008, etc.), notes, when people are polled on whether they believe in evolution, the majority are agreeable; only when asked if humans evolved does the bottom drop out. Most religions, writes the author, “agree on one thing, which is the uniqueness of the human species and the need for a special story to explain how we came to be….By telling us that we do not have such a story, by placing our origins squarely in the ordinary genetic, environmental, and selective processes that have produced every other living thing, evolution sweeps such narratives away and leaves us searching for our birthright as thoughtful, intelligent, and hopeful creatures.” Miller disagrees with scientists who proclaim that humans are nothing special, that we are merely the product of natural laws in an indifferent universe. He also disagrees with those who claim that natural selection must be wrong because phenomena such as free will, consciousness, and culture don’t increase reproductive fitness. They are not only mistaken, writes the author, but killjoys. His universe is a kaleidoscope of dazzling evolutionary possibilities that our existence illustrates. We are “creatures like no others, with extraordinary flexibility of behavior, powers of imagination, and, above all, conscious self-awareness. That self-awareness has enabled us, alone among living things, to stand above the imperatives of survival and reproduction and seek to understand how we came to be.” Human culture, consciousness, and life itself are simply emergent properties. Our appearance was unpredictable but not random, and all organisms fill an evolutionary niche. We may be the first to fill ours, but it was there all the time.

Evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and polemic combine in an appealing argument for human uniqueness.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9026-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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