Rigorous and humble, admiring and dismissive—a clear and accessible introduction to philosophy’s first superstar.

READ REVIEW

PLATO’S REPUBLIC

Plato’s most influential text gets a going-over in the latest addition to Atlantic’s Books That Changed the World series.

Blackburn (Philosophy/Cambridge; Lust, 2004, etc.) summarizes the Greek philosopher’s principal arguments and considers their contemporary relevance. He begins by undercutting Alfred North Whitehead’s famous statement that all European philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, then moves to clarify the distinction between the “worldly” Aristotelian view and the “other-worldly” Platonic value system. These and other introductory matters (including some historical background) out of the way, the author launches into his exegesis, examining closely Plato’s views on might and right, on ruling elites, reason and passion, knowledge and belief. After a chapter on Republic’s best-known portion, the Myth of the Cave, Blackburn devotes his most compelling and significant pages to examining how three traditions have employed this famous allegory. Christians folded its ideas into their own theology and expelled Plato. Poets like Wordsworth and Shelley saw the allegory’s enormous metaphorical and spiritual richness. Mathematicians and scientists were perhaps those whom Plato had in mind all along, for Blackburn notes that they alone understand “the unchanging within the changing” that lies at the heart of the parable. The author reluctantly leaves the cave and looks at Plato’s “descending staircase” of political systems, with the philosopher-kings occupying the summit and absolute dictators lurking in the pits. Here and throughout Blackburn is forthright about his own political views. He repeatedly bashes Bush, Blair and neo-conservatives; he grieves that we are in the grip of a new oligarchy of the wealthy, who control the media and thus the ballot box. His final chapters deal with Plato’s silly dismissal of painters and poets and with the “charming, and poetic” Farewell Myth of Er.

Rigorous and humble, admiring and dismissive—a clear and accessible introduction to philosophy’s first superstar.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-87113-957-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more