Soft-headed but kind-hearted, this account of the spiritual legacy we should bequeath to the world is peppered with inspirational stories and sayings, some flavorsome, some not. Psychiatrist Greiff (Tradeoffs: Executive, Family and Organizational Life, 1980), who formerly taught at the Harvard Business School, argues for a revival of the notion of the “intellectual bequest”—a legacy of sage advice, stories, and examples to pass on to future generations. These he groups under eight themes: Loving, Learning, Laboring, Laughing and Lamenting, Linking, Living, Leading, and Leaving. Collectively, he says, these eight L’s “make up the core of the human experience” and represent a ninth L, “our Legacy.” He expounds upon each through his own life lessons, stories about his patients, quotations, and anecdotes. The author’s voice is generous and humane, his psychiatric abilities sharp, but as a spiritual teacher, he comes up short. The book promotes a resolutely secular spirituality, one that praises all spiritual “beliefs and values” and allows that some people are not spiritual at all but only “bio-psycho-social.” Fuzzy terms like “spiritual safety net” substitute for a clear statement of what the author believes about God, immortality, and the meaning of life. The murkiness is made worse by the author’s habit of plucking quotations out of context and welding them together: Nietzsche and Peter Pan on one page, Saint Francis and George Bernard Shaw on another. Despite Greiff’s claims, St. Matthew most assuredly did not have the Nine L’s in mind when writing his Gospel. Since the overall framework is vague, the book is only as vivid as its pieces; these vary in quality, from authentic insights to uncomfortable metaphors (our emotions as parts of a pizza). Not so much an argument as a treasury of points to ponder. May help some people who are seeking “some kind of spiritual renaissance” but may leave others still seeking.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-039283-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.


A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet