A fascinating though ultimately unpersuasive argument for deep societal reform.



A historically panoramic examination of human playfulness as a naturally healthy and politically subversive force. 

According to debut author Siegel, the predilection to play is universally distributed throughout the animal kingdom, humans being no exception. Our original experience of play is both animated by wonder and love, a deeply spiritual act not reducible to a rational formula or sense of purposeful utility. However, a child’s unencumbered sense of play is exchanged for a more culturally conditioned version, which encourages a child to rehearse adult roles in anticipation of a life of work and productivity. While that societally governed sense of play is both salutary and necessary, so is the primordial iteration that gets lost. In fact, that first, elementary sense of play promotes social harmony, accepts and appreciates the irrational nature of the world, is inherently uncompetitive and anti-war, and serves as the impetus for authentic artistic expression. The author raises two connected questions about the human inclination to playfulness: Is there a way its primary permutation can be effectively renewed? And if so, can a reformation of society, a mass movement of sorts, be based upon it? In order to answer these queries—both in the affirmative—Siegel furnishes a sweeping and eclectic history of play, focusing on its artistic manifestations. He assesses the birth of impressionism and its passage through Dadaism to surrealism, pranksters like Andy Kaufman and Abbie Hoffman, Beat generation writers and hippie activists, as well as the role of the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear and the critique of capitalism performed by Banksy.  Siegel’s thesis is philosophically provocative and original. He makes a somewhat paradoxical case for the serious uses of playfulness, especially the political value of its “disruptive” varieties. He’s well-aware that the analytical treatment of playfulness is inherently limited and even potentially counterproductive given its subrational character. Siegel combines intellectual rigor with a bracing optimism—he believes the history of disruptive playfulness provides empirical reasons to believe in its sociopolitical power: “This idea of embracing irrationality through play, of reevaluating the spiritual contribution and the political implications of childhood is neither far-fetched nor without precedent.” However, Siegel’s historical analysis can also be idiosyncratic and insufficiently demonstrated; it’s not at all obvious, nor a matter of scholarly consensus, that Dadaism ultimately withered under the weight of capitalist opposition. In fact, it’s just as possible if not more so that Dadaism perished from its own incoherence. Still, the central difficulty of the work is its insistence on an unyielding separation between genuine artistic creativity and commerce: “The energies of art/play and capitalism ultimately cannot coexist.” The author provides numerous examples to the contrary—many of his artistic revolutionaries were also wildly successful financially. Furthermore, he cites the Burning Man festival as a model for the societal spread of playfulness, but that seems more suitable as a model for the corporate co-optation of it. 

A fascinating though ultimately unpersuasive argument for deep societal reform.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2018


Page Count: 327

Publisher: Wakdjunkaga Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2018

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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