A well-informed philosophical investigation into methods for breaking through “walls that will not let in fresh and...

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THE LIES THAT BIND

RETHINKING IDENTITY

In an exploration of the ways we label and confine ourselves, a celebrated philosopher advocates for a theory of human identity that recognizes but transcends race, religion, nation, culture, and class.

Repudiating today's misguided surge of nationalism and nativist “purity,” Appiah (Philosophy and Law/New York Univ.; As If: Idealization and Ideals, 2017, etc.) provides an impeccably argued challenge to all manner of calcified identities, including the illusory notion of “Western” civilization. “The East” is no less a chimera. Broadly, the author insists that we are bound by ways of apprehending identities that took modern shape in the 19th century, and they demand re-evaluation. Appiah makes irrefutable points about the incoherence of narrowly defined identities and our collective delusions. However, he dithers a bit in his opening essays, splitting hairs and taking a chapter to express what could have been managed in 300 words. Indeed, the book often relates the obvious in exhaustive terms, and the author sometimes ends up preaching to the choir. While eviscerating much pseudo-science, he also parrots some of the more questionable contentions of academic ideologues, succumbing to their oversimplifications. Still, the author has a penetrating grasp of the complexities of identity, and he wields history like a scalpel, extracting the cancerous myths, poisonous prejudices, and foolish antagonisms that divide us. Though Appiah savors his entwined Asante and English heritage, he is, like Diogenes, a citizen of the world, and his intent is to build bridges. “My aim is to start conversations, not to end them,” he concludes, fully acknowledging that there is much more to be said on each of the topics he investigates. Appiah knows we are clannish creatures and that the most intractable of all “isms” is tribalism. He asks only that we rethink false assumptions and find our way out of the thickets.

A well-informed philosophical investigation into methods for breaking through “walls that will not let in fresh and enlivening air.”

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-383-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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 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 timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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