MANHOOD AT HARVARD

WILLIAM JAMES AND OTHERS

Townsend (English/Amherst Coll.; Sherwood Anderson, 1987) scrutinizes the thought of Charles Eliot and William James to locate the 19th-century ideals of manhood peculiar to the Harvard Man, and to trace their influence on America after the Civil War. In an alumni essay published in 1902, Harvard history professor Albert Bushnell Hart looked back to find that ``teaching men manhood'' was ``not a matter of record on the College books'' but concluded that in subtle ways it nonetheless had been done. Townsend thoroughly searches the written record to determine how much the elusive ethos of ``manhood'' influenced Harvard president Charles William Eliot (18691909), William James, and their colleagues, as they brought the institution to the forefront of American higher education and arguably created the modern American university. Harvard's professorial Golden Age during Eliot's tenure included Josiah Royce, C.S. Peirce, Louis Agassiz, Henry Adams, and Charles Eliot Norton, all of whom Townsend objectively reviews for their characters and attitudes toward manhood. He singles out William James for special study because he was flexible enough to both uphold and criticize the assumptions of manhood. Broadly, Townsend argues that masculinity's postbellum ideal took on specific attributes of self-mastery and vigor (physical and intellectual). Townsend concentrates on how Harvard specifically tried to inculcate this new ``manhood,'' as Eliot changed the curriculum to an elective system, promoted physical fitness and (more grudgingly) intercollegiate sports, and moved higher education away from rote learning and closer to commerce and industry. A well-defined concept of manhood, he concludes, never achieved an ideal articulation at Harvard, as can be seen in the life of Teddy Roosevelt—who did more to vulgarize the ideal than embody it. Though the vanished tradition still is palpable in contemporary gender issues, Townsend weakens his punctilious thesis by restricting it to the Harvard corner of the groves of academe. (42 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03939-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1996

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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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