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Singer (like Socrates) takes philosophy and puts it where it belongs—in the market place. In lucid, non-technical prose he tackles disputed moral questions—most notably abortion, euthanasia, civil disobedience, equality, animal rights, and the obligations of the haves to the have-nots—with a compelling blend of intellectual rigor and personal commitment. (An earlier, more limited example: Animal Liberation, 1975.) Singer calls himself a consequentialist, i.e., a utilitarian who measures acts against the norm of "what, on balance, furthers the interests of those affected" rather than with any simple calculus of pleasure and pain. He follows this guideline wherever it leads him—and sometimes winds up out on some pretty controversial limbs. He maintains, for instance, that some animals (chimpanzees, among others) are persons, because they are self-conscious, communicate, and have a notion of the future. Killing an adult, nonhuman primate, then, would be worse than killing a human baby, which is not a person in the strict sense. Singer is not promoting infanticide, but challenging this and other forms of "speciesism," a blind moral prejudice in favor of humanity. In another chapter he proposes with cool but passionate eloquence that withholding help from starving people (e.g., by spending money on luxuries instead of sending it to CARE) is "the moral equivalent of murder." Here and elsewhere Singer stops short of laying down any absolutes, but takes a bold stance that provokes the reader to respond, one way or another. Anti-abortionists will argue—with reason—that he does scant justice to the fetus' status as a potential human being. And ecologists will protest the narrowness of his view that only sentient beings are entitled to ethical consideration (so it's wrong to eat a hamburger, but all right to destroy a redwood forest?). Finally, professional philosophers will complain about the relative flimsiness of Singer's concluding chapter, "Why Act Morally?" on which, logically speaking, his whole case rests. But, whatever the objections, this is a superb performance, rich in substance and immaculately written: critical thinking at its creative best.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0521881412

Page Count: 337

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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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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