At a time when public nobility is hard to come by, this is a good reminder of the power of ethical leadership.

LIVES OF THE STOICS

THE ART OF LIVING FROM ZENO TO MARCUS AURELIUS

An introductory guide to the luminaries of Greco-Roman ethical philosophy—and their checkered histories.

Stoicism is famously prescriptive: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is cherished for its aphoristic guidance on virtue and leadership, and Epictetus’ best-known work, Encheiridion, loosely translates to “handbook.” But Holiday and Hanselman, founders of the website the Daily Stoic, avoid a strict how-to approach, instead structuring the book as chronologically arranged pocket biographies of Stoic figures, from Zeno, a merchant who founded the school in Athens in the fourth century B.C.E., to Aurelius, who applied its tenets of calm resilience as Roman emperor in the second century C.E. The approach means there are many filler chapters on lesser-known thinkers like Panaetius, Porcia Cato (a rare woman Stoic), and Thrasea. (Some seem extraneous. The authors have little to say about Diotimus, who wrote some libelous letters. Bad form, but what of it?) The upside of their approach is that it thoughtfully complicates Stoicism. Rather than emphasizing Spock-like, unemotional rigor (as pop culture often does), the authors reveal how the philosophy often debated its identity and how many of the leaders fell short of its ideals. Cicero, for instance, gained fame as a statesman but ran aground thanks to his reputation for self-aggrandizement; Seneca’s seriousness gave him the thankless task of serving as counsel to Nero, who used him as cover for his own despicable actions as Roman emperor. Still, the authors see Stoicism as inherently inspirational, and there are plenty of examples, from corruption-fighters like Publius Rutilius Rufus to Epictetus, who rose from slavery to become a much-admired thinker. The finest Stoics, they write, were “able to focus in even the most distracting of situations, to be able to tune out anything and everything—even creeping death—so that we lock in on what matters.”

At a time when public nobility is hard to come by, this is a good reminder of the power of ethical leadership.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54187-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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