Occasionally heavy reading that is well worth the effort.



An educative foray into a “growing discipline…that tries to understand how people understood their feelings in the past.”

How mankind has dealt with emotion might seem an abstruse academic problem, but this is an insightful and mostly accessible history that should intrigue diligent readers. Firth-Godbehere, research fellow for the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University, hits the ground running by pointing out that emotions are a concept “that English-speaking Westerners put in a box two hundred years ago….The notion that feelings are something that happen in the brain was invented in the early nineteenth century.” Earlier thinkers spoke of temperaments, passions or sentiments—archaic terms now replaced with a single catchall term. The author casts his net widely, beginning with the ancient Greeks, who had no shortage of opinions on our inner lives. Later Christian theologians, led by St. Augustine, concluded that feelings are not good or bad in themselves; their value is determined based on how they are used in the service of God. Any emotion could be sinful if used for personal gain. In the modern age, we have largely discarded the almost universal idea that controlling one’s feelings is the mark of a civilized person. Showing emotions is acceptable, and even material desires (i.e. “covetousness”) are OK if one shows “good taste.” Firth-Godbehere notes that all these concepts are Western, and he goes on to introduce different approaches to emotions in Japan, Africa, and China. Although described as a history, this book delves deeply into philosophy, the theologies of the major religions (rife with commonalities), science, the arts, and social movements from humanism to communism. Plenty of scholars seem to have read everything on their chosen subjects, but it’s rare to find one who can convert this massive database into lucid, captivating prose. Paul Johnson and Yuval Noah Harari do it; Firth-Godbehere is another.

Occasionally heavy reading that is well worth the effort.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-46131-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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