Despite its glaring absence of women philosophers, Grayling’s accessible omnibus will provide a steppingstone for the...

THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

A magnificent recapping of the history of philosophy, as it stands apart from theology, in the classic model of Bertrand Russell, as “an invitation and an entrance.”

In the hands of British scholar and journalist Grayling (Master/New Coll. of the Humanities; Democracy and Its Crisis, 2018, etc.), it is a delight to engage in this sweeping history of the great thinkers throughout the ages, from pre-Socratics to the present. Moreover, in the last section of the book, the author offers a considerably shorter yet fair introduction to Indian, Chinese, Arabic-Persian, and African philosophy (hindered only by the “veil” of language, yet he ends with a challenge to readers to address this surmountable difficulty). The attempt to “make sense of things” has plagued humanity for centuries and has also led to its great advances, especially the “rise of modern thought” in terms of empiricism and rationalism as they gained momentum from the 17th century. These great forces unharnessed philosophy from the strictures of religion, culminating in the essential concept, particularly by Immanuel Kant and his fellow Enlightenment thinkers, that the “autonomy” of man meant “self-government, independence of thought, and possession of the right and the responsibility to make choices about one’s own life.” As Grayling notes, this is “essential to the life worth living,” a matter dear to the very “first” philosophers: Thales, who relied on observation and reason to “know thyself,” and Socrates, for whom the first great question was how to live. As he moves into the more recondite reaches of “analytic” and language philosophy of the 20th century, the author mostly keeps the narrative from becoming overly academic. Unfortunately, there is a disturbing lack of women philosophers across Grayling’s 2,500-year survey, even under the cursory rubric of “feminist philosophy.” The author’s approach is especially refreshing due to his acknowledgement that few philosophers were truly unique (even Buddha or Confucius); often what was required for lasting significance was a kind of luck and a stable of devoted followers.

Despite its glaring absence of women philosophers, Grayling’s accessible omnibus will provide a steppingstone for the student or novice.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7874-8

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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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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