“I think, therefore I am” is only the beginning of the story.

DESCARTES

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A GENIUS

The work of the French rationalist is best understood within the politics of the 17th century, as cogently presented here for the non-philosopher.

Born in 1596, Descartes reached adulthood at the start of the Thirty Years’ War, the bloody European conflict rooted in religious clashes between Protestants and Catholics. Born Catholic and educated in the Jesuit tradition, Descartes spent some time seeking a suitable career—perhaps as lawyer, perhaps as engineer. As the latter, he traveled throughout Europe as a military consultant, although Grayling suggests provocatively that Descartes may have served as a spy. The discovery of clandestine activities, the author argues, may explain why Descartes absconded to the Netherlands (tolerant and out-of-the-way) in 1628 and began his purely intellectual investigations. Yet, in the charged atmosphere of the Counter-Reformation, to be a man of science was no small risk. A decade earlier, Galileo had been excommunicated for publishing evidence supporting the Copernican model of the solar system. Descartes, mindful of these difficulties and a devout Catholic, sought to separate matters of faith from matters of reason. For the scientific revolution to continue, he needed to wipe the slate clean and start over, and thus he conceived his Method of Doubt. Much of his life in the Netherlands was taken up with the careful and measured working out of his ideas on mathematics, logic, optics, physics, medicine and many other areas of rational inquiry. He also slept ten hours a day, lingering in bed until noon, and had an affinity for cross-eyed women. After the publication of his work, Descartes was arrogant to a fault in defending his ideas. Perhaps too vain in later years, his commission to personally tutor the Queen of Sweden led to his death from pneumonia one Scandinavian winter.

“I think, therefore I am” is only the beginning of the story.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8027-1501-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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