A wholly satisfying mix of memoir, cultural history and investigative journalism.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANXIETY

...YOURS AND MINE

Novelist and USA Today contributor Pearson (Area Woman Blows Gasket, 2005, etc.) insightfully probes one of the oldest—and least-understood—psychological conditions.

In this slim but well-constructed book, the author weaves her own experiences—she was officially diagnosed with “generalized anxiety disorder” at age 23, following a nervous breakdown caused by her breakup with a man she “loved as fiercely as Heloise loved Abelard”—with a lively history of anxiety and its many sufferers. She begins by exploring the murky relation among fear, anxiety and depression: “Our fears are private, arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and very often masked. Anxiety rages undetected in the mind, both secretive and wild.” And she employs a pleasing blend of personal anecdote and historical context. Despite her often playful tone and poetic, evocative language, Pearson provides countless intriguing historical examples, backed by an extensive notes section, including discussions of ancient philosophy, medicine and theology; Darwin’s treatment of his hypochondria (he was sprayed with a hose); American composer Allen Shawn’s agoraphobia; and the Middle Ages practice of summoning animals to court to stand trial, simply in the interest of holding something accountable when things went awry. She also examines contemporary manifestations of anxiety: widespread depression and fear of being fired from one’s job; pressure to succeed, illustrated by the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who in 2006 was shown to have plagiarized most of her much-hyped debut novel from other authors; and Flu Wiki, a website devoted to those obsessed with an epidemic outbreak of influenza. Most readers won’t be surprised to learn that, according to a World Mental Health Survey, the “United States has the highest level of anxiety in the world, with a lifetime prevalence rate of 28.8 percent.” (Compare that with Mexico, in which, according to the author, 93.4 percent of people have never experienced an instance of anxiety or depression.) The author concludes with a chronicle of her negative experiences with prescription drugs like Effexor and Lexapro, and the charge—a common one these days—that psychiatrists are overprescribing in lieu of less-invasive treatments like behavioral therapy.

A wholly satisfying mix of memoir, cultural history and investigative journalism.

Pub Date: March 4, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59691-298-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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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 Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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