Occasionally heavy reading that is well worth the effort.

A HUMAN HISTORY OF EMOTION

HOW THE WAY WE FEEL BUILT THE WORLD WE KNOW

An educative foray into a “growing discipline…that tries to understand how people understood their feelings in the past.”

How mankind has dealt with emotion might seem an abstruse academic problem, but this is an insightful and mostly accessible history that should intrigue diligent readers. Firth-Godbehere, research fellow for the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University, hits the ground running by pointing out that emotions are a concept “that English-speaking Westerners put in a box two hundred years ago….The notion that feelings are something that happen in the brain was invented in the early nineteenth century.” Earlier thinkers spoke of temperaments, passions or sentiments—archaic terms now replaced with a single catchall term. The author casts his net widely, beginning with the ancient Greeks, who had no shortage of opinions on our inner lives. Later Christian theologians, led by St. Augustine, concluded that feelings are not good or bad in themselves; their value is determined based on how they are used in the service of God. Any emotion could be sinful if used for personal gain. In the modern age, we have largely discarded the almost universal idea that controlling one’s feelings is the mark of a civilized person. Showing emotions is acceptable, and even material desires (i.e. “covetousness”) are OK if one shows “good taste.” Firth-Godbehere notes that all these concepts are Western, and he goes on to introduce different approaches to emotions in Japan, Africa, and China. Although described as a history, this book delves deeply into philosophy, the theologies of the major religions (rife with commonalities), science, the arts, and social movements from humanism to communism. Plenty of scholars seem to have read everything on their chosen subjects, but it’s rare to find one who can convert this massive database into lucid, captivating prose. Paul Johnson and Yuval Noah Harari do it; Firth-Godbehere is another.

Occasionally heavy reading that is well worth the effort.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-46131-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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 refreshingly candid, fearless look into a model’s body of work and its impact on her identity and politics.

MY BODY

The international model embarks on a nuanced investigation of her body and identity.

Ratajkowski’s exploration of fame, self-identity, and what it means to be a “beautiful” woman is surprisingly engaging. Originally thrust into the spotlight in 2013 due to her scantily clad appearance in the music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the author eventually became known for her stances about beauty and sexuality and how they are commodified. Now that she is a wife and mother, she writes, “I feel a tenderness toward my younger self. My defensiveness and defiance are palpable to me now. What I wrote and preached then reflected what I believed at the time, but it missed a much more complicated picture. In many ways, I have been undeniably rewarded by capitalizing on my sexuality….But in other, less overt ways, I’ve felt objectified and limited by my position in the world as a so-called sex symbol.” This short book includes the juicy tidbits that avid celebrity-memoir readers seek, and the author shares how she really felt about the video shoot and how the aftermath affected her. Beyond that, the book is a reflective coming-of-age-in-the-industry tale, a story that is never maudlin but contains a few thick, murky sections. Ratajkowski attempts to break down the construction of her identity and sexuality in relation to the ever present male gaze as well as her relationships with the women in her life. The charm of this book lies in the author’s largely relatable writing, which shows the complex emotions and confusion of a young woman experiencing her sexual development and maturation into a capable adult. Admitting that the “purpose of the book is not to arrive at answers, but honestly to explore ideas I can’t help but return to,” Ratajkowski grapples directly with a host of thorny issues.

A refreshingly candid, fearless look into a model’s body of work and its impact on her identity and politics.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-81786-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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