Watson has achieved the near-impossible: a concise reference that is also intellectually compelling—and a fascinating read.



A smart, lively, and astoundingly comprehensive panorama of practically every major European and American intellectual movement of the 20th century.

Art journalist Watson (Sotheby’s, 1998, etc.) offers a Hit Parade of political forces and personalities, discoveries and revolutions, modernism and postmodernism. Thematically organized chapters present the century as a vivid narrative that sweeps from Mendelian genetics and Max Planck’s theory of electromagnetic radiation to the explosive emergence of Schoenberg’s atonal compositions and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, from the Harlem Renaissance to the outbreak of WWII, from The Organization Man to multiculturalism and postcolonialism. The readability comes at a price: some reductiveness is inevitable in a single-volume overview of a subject as complex as the 20th century, and many interesting countertrends and secondary figures had to be omitted—but not all that many. At times, the format necessitates flat, simplistic judgments, the kind that students quote trustingly. Watson announces unequivocally that the “six great philosophers” living at the turn of the century were Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Bendetto Croce, Edmund Husserl, William James, and Bertrand Russell—and that, as far as novelists are concerned, Saul Bellow will prove “the standard against which all others will be judged.” Yet far more controversial and problematic material (such as the human potential movements of the 1970s, deconstructionist philosophy, and the “canon wars” of the 1980s and 1990s) is handled with disarming subtlety and intelligence. Watson’s emphasis on European and American culture may eventually prove a more serious limitation if the demographics of the coming century shift the world's gaze to developments in Asia and Africa. Nonetheless, the sheer quantity of accurate, fair-minded information and thoughtful analysis results in an invaluable resource for at least the near future.

Watson has achieved the near-impossible: a concise reference that is also intellectually compelling—and a fascinating read.

Pub Date: March 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019413-8

Page Count: 864

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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