This philosophical treatise on luck offers good sense but little in the way of unpredictable insights. Early on, Rescher (Philosophy/Univ. of Pittsburgh) asserts that ``like it or not, luck is an ineliminable part of the human condition,'' and he concludes with the contention that we depend on luck to give interest and variety to our lives, that indeed life itself exists only through a series of lucky chances. While accurate enough, such observations can seem overly abstract and somewhat pedestrian. Happily, the scenarios that Rescher treats in the course of isolating his idea of luck lend life to his book. A host of illustrative anecdotes find luck manipulated, embraced, or denied as different people see fit. On nearly every page, Rescher provides either a historical vignette (like the ancient Roman worship of the goddess Fortuna, or the randomness of death in the Black Plague) or a modern example of how we encounter luck today (rushing to catch trains, hoping to win lotteries). Rescher's adroit analysis of the intellectual history of luckincluding a section on the history and theory of gamblingand of the relationship between luck and morality show the value of philosophically considering how luck works in practice. Meanwhile, he offers advice on how to ``manage'' one's luck with careful planning. Rescher has fairly little to say about luck and psychology, although his subtitle raises such expectations by echoing Freud's famous title The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Had Rescher devoted more effort to explaining from a philosophical perspective the relationship between luck, wishes, and desireswhat psychoanalysis explains through the unconscioushe might have been able to tell us something striking not just about luck, but about the human condition in general. Is it not, after all, the emotional energy that we stake on its determinations that makes luck's randomness seem brilliant? Accomplished enough, although one wishes that Rescher had taken more chances, pushing the frontier of philosophy's domain.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-374-19428-9

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1995

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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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