Although some of these pieces have a tired feel, there’s much here to enjoy and ponder.


A swan song from one of Europe’s great intellectuals.

After publishing numerous novels, criticism, essays, and so much more, Eco (Numero Zero, 2015, etc.) died in 2016 at the age of 84. Like a few others before him, including Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, among others, Eco proved that one could write for many audiences. Following up on two similar collections, this book contains more than 100 short opinion pieces originally published in L’Espresso magazine from 2000 to 2015. He calls them “reflections on aspects of this ‘liquid society’ of ours,” and they encompass the current crises facing countries across the world, a collapse of ideologies, and the rise of unbridled individualism. They are divided into 13 titled sections, including “From Stupidity to Folly.” Eco was no curmudgeon, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly—e.g., the “excess of stupidity is clogging the [internet] lines.” The author regularly discusses his dislike of cellphones; people “no longer talk face-to-face…no longer reflect on life and death, and instead talk obsessively, invariably with nothing to say.” There’s a distinct Italian lean to these pieces, so some travel better than others, but it’s not so much the information they convey as much as the intellect and thought processes of the conveyor. As Eco admits in one of the last pieces, “don’t take the things you have just read as pure gold.” In one piece, he discusses the Italian government selling off their Maserati cars; in another, the letters of Ian Fleming, who “was a master of style,” and James Joyce. We learn that Eco is a big fan of the “amiable universe” of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and that Art Spiegelman is a “genius,” Maus “one of the most important pieces of literature on the Holocaust.” Even when he’s apologizing for not writing prefaces for people’s books, Eco entertains with his intellect, humor, and insatiable curiosity.

Although some of these pieces have a tired feel, there’s much here to enjoy and ponder.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-97448-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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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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