Bright, absorbing look into a mystifying source of inspiration, the kind that often uncaps a wellspring of ideas and...




A crisply written study of how and why eureka moments can power intellectual breakthroughs.

After having written about modern-day stoicism, sculling, the deflection of brickbats and human desire, Irvine (Philosophy/Wright State Univ.; A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt—And Why They Shouldn’t, 2013, etc.) now turns his attention to the interior flashbulbs that have supplied historical icons like Albert Einstein and Gustav Mahler, as well as our own modern-day geniuses, with significant epiphanies. While Irvine admits these insightful “aha moments” are indeed mysterious in nature, they are universally experienced and covetously perceived. The author diligently examines this phenomenon, showing how the unconscious mind is often responsible for the development of creative and productive ideas. He scours five unique domains where inspiration is essential: religion, morality, science, mathematics and art. He deftly explores each of these areas, analyzing how this “rush of discovery” can transform and thus validate one’s laboratory research or creative endeavor. Irvine also examines the sensation of the aha moment, its psychology and related neurological aspects, as well as varied theories as to its frequency and the roadblocks preventing these kinds of epiphanies from having a significant impact. The author examines his own experiences with hypnagogia (the transitional, often hallucinatory state from wakefulness to sleep), compares divine visions versus hallucinations, and amusingly includes noted contrarian journalist Christopher Hitchens when intersecting inspiration and morality. His surveys of historical events where aha moments have come into play have also been thoughtfully researched. In the book’s acknowledgments, Irvine humorously thanks and endorses his muses, rationalizing that “it’s hard to go wrong if you keep an open mind.”

Bright, absorbing look into a mystifying source of inspiration, the kind that often uncaps a wellspring of ideas and potential.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0199338870

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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