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Peter Singer's critique of sociobiology as applied to ethics falls into the it's-okay-but-it-presumes-too-much school. Rather than rejecting Wilson's notions of altruism, Singer spends considerable time restating and defending the ideas of a genetic basis for kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and, to some extent, group selection. With homage to Dawkins, we hear again about the strategies of The Prisoner's Dilemma and other situations in which mutual altruism pays off better than pure selfishness. Only in the second half does Singer present his particular view, which is that moral behavior reflects the human ability to reason. As individuals and cultures mature, reason permits the extension of an ethical code to an ever-widening population. If this smacks of old-fashioned supremacy of Reason over Feelings, and concentric circles of morality (family, group, nation) in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, that is precisely what it seems. One should act with an impartial concern for all, Singer iterates, to promote the best interests of all. (He would, as he's written before, extend concern to other species as well.) He acknowledges that the abstract principle needs to be concretized in rules—to encourage some biological tendencies, to guide specific situations, to instruct the young, etc. However, his invoking of reason as the ultimate desideratum is in itself reductionist. He has nominated—if not reified—one special aspect of human behavior, arbitrarily dismissing religion as irrelevant and biology as inadequate. But what is Reason? Are there no conflicts of Reason? How does one encourage Reason to prevail? And should it always? Only in the last few pages does Singer aver "We must begin to design our culture so that it encourages broader concerns without frustrating important and relatively permanent human desires." Certainly sociobiology does not have the last word in ethics, but Singer's defense of Reason as the way out is unconvincing and similarly inadequate.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1980

ISBN: 0192830384

Page Count: 190

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1980

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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