Amusing and occasionally insightful, but too reliant on oversimplification.

A lighthearted examination of major life milestones through the lens of major philosophical thinkers.

Smith’s latest dips into the thought of Montesquieu, Arendt and Kant, among others, to lend a philosophical flair to essays on common life experiences. A former Prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, Smith (Breakfast with Socrates, 2010) writes with a conversational bent, moving quickly through his arguments and making deft leaps from the mundane to the abstract. His explanations of difficult concepts are clear without being condescending. Unfortunately, there are moments where the author’s intellectual authority is marred by his refusal to think beyond the trite, as in an exploration of young love and first kisses. Smith acknowledges that the idea that teenage boys want to quickly move beyond kissing into sex, as opposed to their female counterparts, is a stereotype, but doesn’t bother to explore other scenarios. This is especially disappointing given his brilliant analysis, in the same chapter, of one of the most famous first kisses in literature, between Romeo and Juliet. It’s a shame he didn't delve deeper into the play and offer his thoughts on Juliet’s breathlessly erotic soliloquy (“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds…”), surely a place to consider that teenage girls, too, might want more than a kiss. The stereotypes continue in “Getting a Job,” in which Smith writes that women have a different relationship to work than men because their ability to have children “might mean depending on a man at some point to bring home the bacon.”

Amusing and occasionally insightful, but too reliant on oversimplification.

Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8687-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011



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


Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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