Adler, who characterizes philosophy as "rational talk about the basic problems of mankind," is occasionally too talky, but...

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HOW TO THINK ABOUT THE GREAT IDEAS

FROM THE GREAT BOOKS OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

This collection of transcripts from a 50-year-old educational TV series has its creaky moments, but overall it is surprisingly fresh, containing much sound thinking on a variety of philosophical questions.

As if embarrassed to reveal the book's age, the publishers neglect to mention until the afterword that its contents were originally broadcast in 1953 – 54 as a series of 52 weekly half-hour TV shows. This material has been shaped into 52 chapters on the "Great Ideas": e.g., truth; knowledge and opinion; good and evil; beauty and art; law and government; philosophy; and God. Each idea is rationally investigated, on the assumption that clear thinking can yield some knowledge and sharpen some questions. As a window into television's early days, the book has curiosity value: viewers of the time evidently considered it good television to watch Adler (Art, the Arts, and the Great Ideas, 1994, etc.) discourse on philosophy with his sidekick Lloyd Luckman. Try selling that format to a network today! In some ways the show was forward-looking: viewers interacted with Adler, sending written queries that were answered the following week, like a slow-motion Internet forum. Other touches seem musty: references to President Eisenhower and the burning issue of "conformity versus dissent," and the absence of references to non-Western writings. Much of the content is familiar from Adler's other books, padded with the wordiness endemic to speech. Even so, the encyclopedic scope on issues of genuinely perennial interest is welcome, as is Adler's refreshingly non-postmodern optimism about the power of philosophy to discover truth.

Adler, who characterizes philosophy as "rational talk about the basic problems of mankind," is occasionally too talky, but for the most part delivers the rational discourse he promises.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8126-9412-0

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Open Court

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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