A scholarly and beautifully written account of late Greek and Roman thought in which Nussbaum (Philosophy, Classics, and Comparative Literature/Brown Univ.) analyzes the use of philosophical argument as a technique for enabling people to grapple with fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression. Her theme is the ancients' concept of philosophy as a practical art of living (analogous to medicine) that welds ethics, religion, and emotional introspection in the pursuit of truth and the removal of unsound beliefs from the soul. Omitting Plato, who has been the subject of excellent recent work by other scholars (especially Gregory Vlastos), Nussbaum begins with background chapters on Aristotle and then works her way through the Epicureans, the Skeptics, and the Stoics. Much of the book is devoted to the writings of Lucretius and Seneca, whom she treats as thinkers in their own right rather than simply users of other people's thought as a vehicle for personal poetic or dramatic expression. She questions Lucretius' view of erotic love as essentially aiming at fusion rather than intimate responsiveness. Here and elsewhere Nussbaum makes subtle but vital distinctions. As in The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (not reviewed), she writes with a mixture of passion and delicacy on the one hand, professional scholarship on the other—a blend that in itself expresses her concept of philosophy as practical, compassionate, and inclusive. She sees in the Hellenistic philosophers a basic tension between transcendence and involvement in life, and an understanding of politics and emotion that has much to teach us today. There is a useful glossary of philosophers and their schools for the nonexpert. Stimulating, solid fare, likely to appeal to classicists, philosophers, and all who are concerned with perennial human issues.

Pub Date: May 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-691-03342-0

Page Count: 530

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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