There’s much good food for thought—and for better thinking—in Critchley’s rambles.

A genial exercise in public philosophy by an admittedly tonsorially challenged practitioner.

To engage in philosophy in public, writes Critchley, is akin to sticking your head out the window and engaging passersby. But, he adds, “If you stick your head out the window, something foul-smelling is likely to land on it.” People are argumentative and contrarian, especially in the digital realm, and they forget a key Socratic tenet of the discipline: The unexamined life isn’t worth living. Happiness is a central issue here, and one of its hallmarks is quiet time for contemplation, easily ruined by the impinging demands of daily life: “The cell phone rings, the email beeps and one is sucked back into the world’s relentless hum and the accompanying anxiety. Not that tucking yourself away from the world is a guarantee for happiness or even decency. As Critchley notes, Rousseau, that most eminent of philosophers, was a deeply unpleasant man, “self-obsessed and totally paranoid,” who stuck all five of his children in an orphanage. Happiness can be a subset of the Greek concept of glory, which boils down to how you’ll be remembered after you’re dead. It can be accomplished by a certain amount of old-fashioned cynicism of the Diogenes variety, which we need more of “in a world like ours, which is slowly trying to rouse itself from the dogmatic slumbers of boundless self-interest, corruption, lazy cronyism and greed.” Ever current, Critchley closes with a meditation on Covid-19 and the anxieties it induces, which he encourages his readers to grapple with rather than self-medicate away. Along his path, he pauses to wonder whether philosophy has progressed at all over the centuries; to appreciate David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, which “he reportedly planned as a message to his fans from beyond the grave”; and to allow, with Pascal, that we’re weak and wretched beings but eminently improvable.

There’s much good food for thought—and for better thinking—in Critchley’s rambles.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-300-25596-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021


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



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