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A useful compendium of a seminal article and its offshoots, and it couldn’t be timelier.

A distinguished philosopher offers his past and present thinking on the subject of moral obligations that members of affluent societies have to those living in extreme poverty.

In 1972, at the height of a humanitarian crisis involving millions of refugees seeking asylum in India from political repression they had suffered in Pakistan, Singer (Bioethics/Princeton Univ.; The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, 2015, etc.) published his influential article, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” He argued that if people in the West had “[the] power to prevent something bad from happening, without…sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, [they] ought, morally, to do it.” This held true no matter whether the individuals they were helping were physically close to them or not. What was most important was that social ills—in the form of “suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care”—plaguing fellow humans be eradicated. Argumentative force and cogency made Singer's article a staple of university courses worldwide. He pointed out the value of philosophy in public discourse while suggesting the need for committed social engagement among intellectuals who too often took action by writing or speaking rather than actually doing. More than four decades later, Singer brings together his original article along with two others—published in 1999 and 2006 in the New York Times Sunday Magazine—that discuss the problem of how much to give. “Fair share” contributions based on yearly income may seem the “right” thing to do since such a scheme suggests giving according to available funds. But Singer ultimately believes that in the end, any money not strictly allocated for necessities (and no matter the income level) “should be given away.” As powerful today as it was when he wrote it, Singer’s work offers uncompromising, refreshing insight into the problem of global economic inequality.

A useful compendium of a seminal article and its offshoots, and it couldn’t be timelier.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-021920-8

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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 19, 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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