The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

BRAVE ENOUGH

A lightweight collection of self-help snippets from the bestselling author.

What makes a quote a quote? Does it have to be quoted by someone other than the original author? Apparently not, if we take Strayed’s collection of truisms as an example. The well-known memoirist (Wild), novelist (Torch), and radio-show host (“Dear Sugar”) pulls lines from her previous pages and delivers them one at a time in this small, gift-sized book. No excerpt exceeds one page in length, and some are only one line long. Strayed doesn’t reference the books she’s drawing from, so the quotes stand without context and are strung together without apparent attention to structure or narrative flow. Thus, we move back and forth from first-person tales from the Pacific Crest Trail to conversational tidbits to meditations on grief. Some are astoundingly simple, such as Strayed’s declaration that “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard.” Others call on the author’s unique observations—people who regret what they haven’t done, she writes, end up “mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions” of themselves—and offer a reward for wading through obvious advice like “Trust your gut.” Other quotes sound familiar—not necessarily because you’ve read Strayed’s other work, but likely due to the influence of other authors on her writing. When she writes about blooming into your own authenticity, for instance, one is immediately reminded of Anaïs Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Strayed’s true blossoming happens in her longer works; while this collection might brighten someone’s day—and is sure to sell plenty of copies during the holidays—it’s no substitute for the real thing.

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-946909

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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