An informative book that inspires readers toward their authentic selves.



Can a person try to be authentic?

Contrary to its popular characterization, existentialism has never been a philosophy of darkness and despair. Its preoccupation with death is better understood as the background that enables a passionate embrace of life. What, after all, is more life-affirming than the notion that a person can, within certain limits, make of herself what she will—that we can all be, in Simone de Beauvoir’s phrase, “poets of our own lives”? As in her previous books Existentialism and Romantic Love and How To Live a Good Life, philosopher Cleary investigates existentialism as part of a long tradition of individual empowerment. Centered around the life and writings of Beauvoir, Cleary’s latest offers life advice so practical that at times it can be difficult to tell the philosophical from the common-sensical. What Cleary and Beauvoir ask us to do is, first, acknowledge facticity—that is, the givens of our life (where and when we were born, and so on)—and, second, exercise our freedom to take responsibility for everything else: who we are and what we do. The challenges lie in the application of this framework. In chapters devoted to marriage, aging, death, and the like, Cleary shows what it entails to take Beauvoir seriously. Some of the most moving passages in the book involve the author assessing her own life in these terms. In the chapter on self-sabotage, she describes turning “down being a guest on an important podcast because I’m afraid I won’t know what to say, or the words won’t come to me, or I’ll forget important points, or I’ll just sound stupid.” How refreshing to read a philosopher who achieves such vulnerability. Critical readers may object to Cleary’s overly broad conception of facticity and her superhero-strong sense of agency, but if they are wise, they will note these objections and then proceed to the business of taking good advice where they find it.

An informative book that inspires readers toward their authentic selves.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27135-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's Essentials

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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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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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

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