Doctor-turned-teacher Kass (Committee on Social Thought/Univ. of Chicago) serves up a stimulating treatise on the anthropology and ethics of eating. In the tradition of ancient philosophers of the good life, Kass suggests how rituals of eating bring the wisdom, friendship, and transcendence that our hungry souls desire. He spices his book with episodes and advice from the Greek and Hebrew classics, topped off with a recounting of Isak Dinesen's Babette's Feast. Gourmands will enjoy browsing for gustatory lore, but Kass has a specific argument to make. With a charmingly eccentric scholasticism, he proposes a model of the human being as the animal that eats, rather than simply feeds. Philosophical meditations on the nature of form, although they take a while to develop fully, lead to a consideration of human omnivorousness and the ethical controls that it requires. Thus, Kass surveys conventions of eating, from taboos against cannibalism to dinner-party rituals. Championing civilized eating, he sees dietary laws, as exemplified by the Book of Leviticus, as reflections of our place in the universe and in relation to nature. Alongside such grand ideas come cantankerous complaints about young people today not covering their mouths when they yawn and about eating on the street—the public licking of ice cream comes in for criticism. Such discriminations of value, however, lie at the heart of Kass's enterprise; even when they appear silly, they enrich his book. One warms to him as one would to an odd, but ultimately good-hearted dinner companion. By the end of the book, one can enjoy the pithy truths even in apparently bland remarks like ``life, as has been observed, is not just a bowl of cherries.'' An agreeable repast, one that will ethically inform even those ill-mannered readers who prefer to help themselves buffet-style rather than wait for the various courses of the argument to be served.

Pub Date: July 12, 1994

ISBN: 0-02-917073-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1994

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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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