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“The whole of Vedic India was an attempt to think further,” writes Calasso. He demands no less from his readers.

An alternately illuminating and baffling exploration of the primary texts of Indian philosophy and religion.

Whether he’s dealing with Greek mythology (The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, 1993), Franz Kafka (K., 2006) or the French Symbolists (La Folie Baudelaire, 2012), Calasso is always concerned with the ways his subjects alter the consciousness of their times. His latest book gives him more than enough to work with: the Vedas, the ancient compilations of Sanskrit hymns, mythology and philosophy that are the only remaining artifacts of a lost world of ancient India, a civilization “in which the invisible prevailed over the visible.” Millennia before Descartes, the Vedic authors and poets were fully aware of mankind as the thinking animal. “For the Vedic people,” writes Calasso, “everything came from consciousness, in the sense of pure awareness devoid of any other attribute.” The author pursues his own quest for enlightenment by questioning, treading carefully and humbling himself before a body of knowledge that has not always been well-served by his Western predecessors. (“Is it possible to hold that ‘our way of thinking’ is so barren and desolate that it doesn’t embrace, at least to some extent, thinking in images?”) He’s more interesting exploring this world than interpreting its texts; he tends to go off into the ether when in expository mode, and his thoughts don’t always naturally evolve. He’s more eloquent when he’s examining how this old world informs our concepts of sacrifice and the morality of killing and what the loss of transcendence means to modern life. He asks, in the end, whether religion has been adequately replaced by a “secularized society that can no longer see nature or any other power beyond itself and believes it is itself the answer for everything.”

“The whole of Vedic India was an attempt to think further,” writes Calasso. He demands no less from his readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-18231-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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 19, 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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