An engaging collection from an urbane, observant writer of admirably lucid prose.



Wide-ranging essays on contemporary life.

In 24 shrewd, witty, insightful essays, cultural critic Kingwell (Philosophy/Univ. of Toronto; Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility, and the Human Imagination, 2012, etc.) returns to many of his favorite themes: fly-fishing, the cityscape, art, and literature. Several consider the gifts of a city, particularly Toronto, where the author revels in walking, “the greatest unpriced pleasure there is,” a “modern art form.” Walking affords encounters with “our fellow citizens. If you live in a large city, learning how to walk the streets is something you must master as a physical expression of belonging.” With equal enthusiasm, Kingwell extols the virtues of bars (“crucibles of human behavior”), the novels of Carl Van Vechten and Michael Arlen, and the “peculiar vitality and personality” of punctuation marks, especially the indispensable serial comma. Some essays, such as a long, annotated piece on Kierkegaard and procrastination, seem addressed more to academic than general—though sophisticated—readers. But most consider contemporary issues, such as the infiltration of robots into the workplace, the meaning of leisure, the difficulty of social mobility (which seems, he believes, “decisively obliterated”), and the future of the book in the digital age. Optimistic about “the endurance of long-form reading,” Kingwell worries less about the death of the printed book than about the possibility of increasing worldwide literacy. Reading fiction, he believes, may not be a means to becoming a better person, but he admits that novels inspire a “contemplative mode of being...which underwrites everything else.” Self-awareness, though, can be achieved through fly-fishing, which involves “dynamic tension” and a “loose-muscled happy feeling in the body….The day acquires clarity, and that feeling of purpose we seek even when engaged in something pointless—beautiful and pointless.”

An engaging collection from an urbane, observant writer of admirably lucid prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77196-046-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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