Eudemonia Redemption

A self-described “ordinary—yet unique—man,” the unnamed narrator of Matar’s (Counselors Beyond Knowledge, 2013) first work of fiction, shares his perspective on living a happy life.

For more than 24 centuries, citizens in the nation of Eudemonia—an Aristotelian term meaning “happiness” or “human flourishing”—have made unprecedented cultural, political, and technological achievements thanks in part to their joy of living, which they are said to have inherited from ancient ancestors. Present-day Eudemonians, however, have lost that joie de vivre. As a result, birth rates are declining, making Eudemonia’s extinction imminent within the next 30 years. To prevent ceding the nation’s independence to nearby Humnesia in exchange for help repopulating, Eudemonia’s president, Sarah, has 10 days to rediscover what made previous Eudemonians so contented. She joins forces with a history of philosophy professor named Adam, who unearthed an ancient manuscript suggesting that a few people in every generation are capable of realizing the same secrets of happiness known by the ancient Eudemonians. This manuscript leads the duo to Matar’s narrator, who responds to Sarah and Adam’s myriad questions—“What makes you happy?”; “How many times have you failed in the past?”—by clarifying his stance on happiness. In the three-way dialogue that makes up the bulk of Matar’s novel, the narrator reiterates his core philosophy: happiness depends on distinguishing between illusions (concepts like ownership and freedom), which lead to misery, and truth, which leads to happiness. Some of his philosophy—that life is a free gift, that success loses meaning without failure—will strike a familiar chord with self-help readers. Other opinions are more provocative, such as the suggestion that humans only truly help one another unintentionally, because acts of charity come with the expectation (and illusion) of self-satisfaction. Though the novel has a fair share of intriguing ideas, Matar never anchors them in a compelling character. Ultimately, the book favors generalizations and platitudes—romantic love, like a vampire, “cannot survive as soon as it is exposed to the light of true love”—over intriguing yet too-brief glimpses into the narrator’s past: “My most happy moments occurred when I was living in a war-torn country.” A compelling premise hindered by a lack of new insights and too little character.


Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5058-1508-5

Page Count: 106

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 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 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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