An outstanding biography of a man of incomprehensible brilliance.



One of the great geniuses of the 20th century, barely known outside academia today, receives a much-needed expert biographical treatment.

Regarding his subject, Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), Budiansky writes, “Einstein had called him ‘the greatest logician since Aristotle,’ and even in Princeton, that town with more Nobel Prize winners than traffic lights, his otherworldly genius had stood out.” Born to a prosperous family in Austria-Hungary, Gödel was brilliant from the start. He entered the University of Vienna in 1924 to study physics but became attracted to mathematics and philosophy. During the 1920s, Vienna was a world center for both disciplines, and Gödel’s talents were quickly recognized. Many readers are unaware that nothing in science is proven. The law of gravity states that things fall down only because things always fall down. No proof exists that they can’t fall up. Only mathematics produces absolute proofs. Mathematicians find this deeply satisfying, but they are still recovering from the shock of Gödel’s great discovery, in the early 1930s, that many systems in mathematics, while true, can’t be proven. Although a historic milestone, it’s an exceedingly difficult concept; readers with some background in college mathematics will be best-suited to comprehending the author’s explanations. Fortunately, Budiansky writes so well that this is no problem. Although Gödel remains the focus of this terrific book, the author delivers insightful portraits of a score of brilliant men and women, almost all German or Austrian, descriptions of their work and academic struggles in early-20th-century Europe, and their lives after Hitler destroyed German science. Many moved to the U.S., where they encountered a land of Eden, especially Princeton, “a picturesque pre-Revolutionary village attached to the university campus.” Barely escaping Vienna in 1940, Gödel settled at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, became a close friend of Einstein, and continued groundbreaking work despite increasing periods of obsession and paranoid delusion, which eventually led to his death via slow starvation.

An outstanding biography of a man of incomprehensible brilliance.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00544-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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 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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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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