A courageous defense of childlessness and a necessary corrective to the Cult of Mommy, but Daum’s collection could have...

Daum (The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, 2014, etc.) compiles essays from a group of noted writers—including Kate Christensen, Geoff Dyer and Lionel Shriver—holding forth on the topic of deliberate childlessness.

The quality of the writing is uniformly high, but read as a whole, the pieces become repetitive and bleed into one another as the same notes are sounded over and over again. One prevalent theme concerns the oppressive conventional wisdom that holds parenting as life’s most profound and worthy calling and the stigma attached to those who choose to forgo children in the interest of other pursuits. Other recurring motifs include the incomprehension of others regarding the writers’ choices, the artistic sacrifices necessary for conscientious parenting, resentment of the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth, frustration over prescriptive gender roles and the self-annihilation associated with domestic responsibilities. Thirteen of Daum’s contributors are women, and three are men, but the perspectives and insights offered by all of the authors remain more or less uniform. A few of the essays touch on childhood abuse perpetrated by parents as a deterrent to procreation, but the majority cite a dedication to the writing life—and the profound disruption to that path that having children promises—as a primary motivator in remaining child-free. Regret over the decision to not have children is notably absent from the book; the authors here largely profess a sense of satisfaction and relief about the choices they have made. It’s a sentiment worth considering but perhaps not 16 times in a row. Other contributors include Laura Kipnis, Sigrid Nunez, Anna Holmes and M.G. Lord.

A courageous defense of childlessness and a necessary corrective to the Cult of Mommy, but Daum’s collection could have benefitted from a more diverse pool of contributors and a fuller consideration of contrary opinions.

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05293-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998



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