A blurry book, desperately in need of sharper vision in order to succeed either as a history of creativity or as a guidebook...

CREATIVITY AND BEYOND

CULTURE, VALUES, AND CHANGE

With much enthusiasm but little focus, Weiner’s history of creativity dulls the intellect even as it attempts to stimulate the soul.

In his overview of creativity in the western world, Weiner skims the historical and literary record from the Bible to the Dalai Lama (taking into account nearly everyone and everything in between) in order to consider the multiple meanings that creativity has held for humanity throughout the centuries. Despite this laudable objective, Weiner’s project collapses under the weight of its own scope—which is too massive to be organized in a single concise volume. The entire Middle Ages, for example, warrant a mere eight pages of text, while another equally unwieldy chapter condenses the innovations of the Romantics, the Victorians, and the Modernists into one freeforall of creative frenzy. A consideration of the cultural variables that influence perceptions of creativity follows this brief history, concluding with a puzzling investigation of recent Chinese history and its effect upon the creation of a new national identity. The great failing of Weiner’s study thus lies in its failure to stick to a working and meaningful definition of creativity: The formation of China’s national character is an interesting question, of course, but to view national identity formation as a result of a specific creative process tempers creativity into a meaningless and hopelessly nebulous term. In a similar vein, the Spanish Inquisition emerges in Weiner’s account not as a religious war, but as a stifling of heretical creativity. Creative heretics? This confluence of disparate personal and social forces under the rubric of creativity undermines the initial promise of the investigation. Concluding with a paean to the blessings of creativity in everyday life, Weiner digresses into blathering suggestions about creative joys and other bloated selfhelp trivialities on his way to a disappointing finish.

A blurry book, desperately in need of sharper vision in order to succeed either as a history of creativity or as a guidebook for the lost.

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7914-4477-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

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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 Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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