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

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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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