Torrance (Comparative Literature/ Univ. of California, Davis) illuminates the human search for the transcendent in tribal religion and 20th-century thought. All life, argues Torrance, is continually going beyond its given condition, and for human beings this movement becomes conscious and purposeful, so that we can speak of ourselves as the questing animal, with as much validity as the rational animal. Torrance introduces his study by discussing the views of anthropologists such as Durkheim and Bergson; the psychological thought of Freud and Piaget among others; and philosophers of language, in particular, Chomsky and Saussure. He bases his exploration on ethnographical evidence, since similar practices among seemingly unrelated tribal peoples argue well for the frequency, if not universality, of the quest in humankind. Torrance discusses myth, rites of passage, and the phenomenon of spirit possession, but the main part of his work is devoted to shamanism. The shaman, he argues (following Eliade), is an active agent who wins mastery over the world of spirits. We learn how the shaman operates in Australia, Tibet, the Americas, and among the Inuit. For example, human sacrifice became the only conceivable response of Nezahualcoyotl, the poet-king of Texcoco, whose quest turned to despair because of the belief in the imminent extinction of the sun and the world. Torrance describes how the shaman is often initiated into his role involuntarily by strange dreams and how self- transformation through ritual death and rebirth enables him to cure others. The author concludes with a brief but rich review of the thought of Ricoeur, Pierce, Popper, Plato, and others, suggesting, rather obscurely, that the object of the human quest continually eludes us and is somehow in a process of formation in which we ourselves play a part. Torrance's book is remarkable for the wealth of fascinating detail drawn from so many cultures.

Pub Date: May 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-520-08132-3

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1994

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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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