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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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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