A self-help book with a strong—but not heavy-handed—philosophical foundation.

MIDLIFE

A PHILOSOPHICAL GUIDE

A philosopher offers practical advice on how to navigate one’s way through middle age and beyond.

Setiya (Philosophy/MIT; Knowing Right from Wrong, 2015, etc.) serves as an engaging companion for those in the throes of the dreaded midlife crisis, as he brings the wisdom of the ages—from Gilgamesh to Aristotle and Plato to John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, and beyond—to bear on the contemporary malaise. Part of the problem is that the choices you have made by midlife have often closed the doors on all the other lives you might have lived. Another problem is that death looms, closer, and however you keep busy pales in comparison to contemplating the end. Yet another is that each task must come to an end, leading to more feelings of emptiness. Like Peggy Lee, “you have lived long enough to ask ‘Is that all there is?’ ” It may be enough, and should be, if you can adopt the proper philosophical perspective. Though Setiya quotes Montaigne—“to philosophize is to learn how to die”—he treats the topic in a tone that is warm, conversational, and surprisingly good-humored. We are all going to go through it, and we are all going to die: “If we could persuade ourselves that immortality is undesirable, we might be reconciled to death.” And the truth of immortality, along with the impossibility, is that it could well leave us bored and bitter; we might prefer a return to the state of nonbeing that preceded our birth, “the prior abyss.” The author counsels that even the most task-oriented must commit themselves to pleasures that he calls “existential,” ones that can’t be completed—e.g., listening to music, enjoying time with friends, meditating.

A self-help book with a strong—but not heavy-handed—philosophical foundation.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-17393-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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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