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



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 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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