If one were to judge these essays in terms of price, their value would be very high.

At her best (and worst) Miss Sontag offers three pennies worth of thought in any one sentence. "The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means." Wonderful. And she drops names like dandruff. The classic example is a classic of her own. "Notes on 'Camp'." With epigraphs from Wilde, and random examples of the Camp "sensibility" (King Kong, Swan Lake, and the memorable "stag movies seen without lust"), Miss Sontag concludes: "The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful...but one can't always say that. Only under certain conditions, which I've tried to sketch in these notes." (Did she mean stretch?) Anyway, Miss Sontag's method is an entertaining mixture of sheer assertion, phenomenology, deep-think, and gush. On Levi-Strauss, Camus, Leiris, and The Deputy, she's brilliant; on the films of Bresson fine; on those of Goddard, Resnais, and Jack Smith a little drippy. Her "Going to Theatre" pieces usually go to pieces; the Marat/Sade coverage, however, is excellent. She fumbles with Sartre and Ionesco, and her long tribute to the radical art of "Happenings" is a propagandistic hullabaloo. Her three theory-essays (the title one, "On Style," and "On Culture") are maddeningly uneven. Like a Joan of Arc of the avant-garde, Miss Sontag attempts a critical breakthrough. Now and then, she succeeds.

In any case, controversial "must" reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 1965

ISBN: 0312280866

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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 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?



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet