A fun, clear and clever introduction to the rich history of philosophy in the Western world.

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THE CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY

An obscure, pre-Socratic Greek philosopher takes readers down the long river of philosophy, explaining movements, theories, breakthroughs and ethics with the help of a few special guest stars.

Oh, what cartoonist and mathematician Larry Gonick started when he launched his cartoon histories of history and the universe. Now, Hill and Wang follows up its cartoon histories about economics with this clever and high-spirited history of philosophy by Patton (Philosophy/Univ. of Montevallo) and illustrator Cannon (Crater XV, 2013, etc.) Our narrator is Heraclitus, who literally paddles readers down the river of philosophy represented in his teachings, stopping along the way to pick up passengers like a foulmouthed Friedrich Nietzsche. “Twenty-five centuries ago, when I said that ‘It is not possible to step twice into the same river’…I was remarking on the fact that everything around us is in flux, and change is the only constant,” Heraclitus explains. “This also applies to the field of philosophy, which, perhaps more than any other, is constantly changing due to its own progress and self-criticism. No two rides down this river will be the same.” The themes are broken up nicely so that in the chapter on logic, we might meet Aristotle but also John Stuart Mill; in “Minds,” we reconnect with Nietzsche but also run into the British mathematician Alan Turing and his famous “Turing Test” or even the contemporary Australian philosopher David John Chalmers. In the chapter on God, we meet classical thinkers in Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant but also debate Charles Darwin over whether evolution and natural selection are possible without a guiding hand from a creator. Patton and Cannon also offer a nice visual portrait of each philosopher as well as a concise summary of each person’s work and ideas, not to mention a helpful glossary covering the spectrum from “Absolutism” to “Validity.”

A fun, clear and clever introduction to the rich history of philosophy in the Western world.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3362-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

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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