THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

DARWIN, FREUD, AND CRANIAL FIRE--THE ORIGINS OF THE WAY WE THINK

Writing with the same infectious enthusiasm that invests his much of his other work, Ornstein (coauthor, Healthy Pleasures, 1989; Multimind, 1986, etc.) replays familiar themes, adding some new twists. We are basically emotional animals, Ornstein says, acknowledging the importance of Darwin (through his studies of emotional expression and child development) and Freud (in emphasizing the primacy of emotional contexts). Indeed, the book is less about the nature of consciousness and the philosophical dilemmas of the mind/brain problem—very deftly delineated by Daniel C. Dennett in Consciousness Explained (reviewed above)—and more about human evolution and behavior in general. A new twist is the theory that the rapid expansion of the brain (prior to language development) had to do with the need to cool neurons in bipedal animals bereft of the circulatory mechanisms available to quadrupeds. It is a scenario about moving to the warm savannahs, tracking animals in the sun, and evolving more neurons, distributed differently, along with a cunning adaptation of venous flow to protect ultrasensitive nerve cells. Clearly the jury is out on that one. Otherwise, Ornstein reviews findings about right-brain/left- brain differences, visual processing, dreams, ``blindsight,'' subliminal perception, etc., more or less downplaying the role of conscious control and championing the old unconscious systems within us managed by ``simpletons.'' This is his concept of ``multimind'' (not unlike Dennett's ``demons''). Much of the concluding material amounts to a sermon on why we need to move away from bodies evolved to adapt to life 10,000 years ago and toward a new adaptation to the overpopulated, nuclear- threatened, polluted world around us. This will require ``conscious selection''—taking over from simpletons. But how? Yet another Cartesian stage manager, as Dennett might say?

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-13-587569-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Prentice Hall

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1991

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION

The creator and host of the titular podcast recounts his lifelong struggles with depression.

With the increasing success of his podcast, Moe, a longtime radio personality and author whose books include The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton: A Parody (2015), was encouraged to open up further about his own battles with depression and delve deeper into characteristics of the disease itself. Moe writes about how he has struggled with depression throughout his life, and he recounts similar experiences from the various people he has interviewed in the past, many of whom are high-profile entertainers and writers—e.g. Dick Cavett and Andy Richter, novelist John Green. The narrative unfolds in a fairly linear fashion, and the author relates his family’s long history with depression and substance abuse. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers was a drug addict. Moe tracks how he came to recognize his own signs of depression while in middle school, as he experienced the travails of OCD and social anxiety. These early chapters alternate with brief thematic “According to THWoD” sections that expand on his experiences, providing relevant anecdotal stories from some of his podcast guests. In this early section of the book, the author sometimes rambles. Though his experiences as an adolescent are accessible, he provides too many long examples, overstating his message, and some of the humor feels forced. What may sound naturally breezy in his podcast interviews doesn’t always strike the same note on the written page. The narrative gains considerable momentum when Moe shifts into his adult years and the challenges of balancing family and career while also confronting the devastating loss of his brother from suicide. As he grieved, he writes, his depression caused him to experience “a salad of regret, anger, confusion, and horror.” Here, the author focuses more attention on the origins and evolution of his series, stories that prove compelling as well.

The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20928-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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