A sturdy, readable study of a fellow who’s had considerable press devoted to him—but who can still surprise.

WHOLE EARTH

THE MANY LIVES OF STEWART BRAND

Tech journalist Markoff, who has covered Silicon Valley since 1977, delivers an admiring portrait of the “quixotic intellectual troubadour” Stewart Brand.

“Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?” So asked Brand after taking one of countless excursions into space courtesy of LSD. He pressed the question, sending homemade buttons bearing that slogan to every member of Congress—and, for good measure, to the Soviet Politburo, Russian scientists, and the U.N. In time, that picture would come. Meanwhile, Brand was busily acting as an entrepreneur, with his Whole Earth Catalog, initially launched in 1968 as a marketing brochure, acting as a kind of proto-Google mixed with a Sears catalog, nascent personal computers, and lashings of psychedelics. “The function of this program is improving access to tools for self-dependent self-education, individual or cooperative,” read the Catalog’s prospectus, which would soon be supplemented by another Brand maxim: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” By Markoff’s account, the Zelig-like Brand was at the right place at the right time to catch rising trends and to amplify the ones he liked, particularly when it came to things like software and early computers such as the KayPro II. In some ways, Markoff continues, Brand is a father of a 1960s counterculture that evolved into technological and small-l libertarian directions in the decades since, for better or worse. However, Markoff notes that Brand was politically quite conservative, and he lost some readers and fans when, in the early 2000s, he began to advocate for nuclear power, genetically engineered foods, and other taboo items. Now in his 80s, Brand continues his explorations, now involved with a “long clock” project that shows every promise of outlasting humankind, given current trends.

A sturdy, readable study of a fellow who’s had considerable press devoted to him—but who can still surprise.

Pub Date: March 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2394-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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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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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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