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

BALD

35 PHILOSOPHICAL SHORT CUTS

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 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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