John Gray is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. His latest book is The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom.
 (June 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

They Won’t Rest in Peace

La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2002

The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains

by Thomas W. Laqueur

Farewell to the World: A History of Suicide

by Marzio Barbagli, translated from the Italian by Lucinda Byatt
A large part of Thomas Laqueur’s inquiry into modern attitudes toward the dead has to do with “a vast enterprise on a small stage: the work of the dead in western Europe since the eighteenth century.” Among other subjects, he aims to show how the cemetery replaced the churchyard as …

How & How Not to Be Good

Peter Singer at Farm Sanctuary, a shelter for rescued farm animals, Watkins Glen, New York, 2006

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically

by Peter Singer
For Peter Singer, “effective altruism” is “an emerging movement” with the potential of spreading to a point when “people all over the world” may be ready to commit themselves to “a new ethical ideal: to do the most good they can.” Singer is clear that applying this ideal will involve …

The Dangers of Democracy

Children demonstrating in favor of a referendum backing the Good Friday peace agreement, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1998

The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present

by David Runciman
“For most of us,” writes David Runciman, “democracy is still the only game in town.” A professor of politics at Cambridge who is noted for showing how apparently contradictory propositions can make sense in politics, Runciman argues that democracies survive crises without having any clear insight into how they manage …

The Real Karl Marx

Karl Marx and his daughter Jenny, a left-wing journalist and her father’s secretary, in 1869. ‘The cross she is wearing,’ Jonathan Sperber writes, ‘was not a sign of religious affiliation but the symbol of the Polish uprising of 1863.’

Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

by Jonathan Sperber
Today Marx is inseparable from the idea of communism, but he was not always wedded to it. Lamenting that “our once blossoming commercial cities are no longer flourishing,” he once declared that the spread of Communist ideas would “defeat our intelligence, conquer our sentiments,” an insidious process with no obvious remedy. In contrast, any attempt to realize communism could easily be cut short by force of arms: “practical attempts [to introduce communism], even attempts en masse, can be answered with cannons.”

The Violent Visions of Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek at his apartment in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2010

Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

by Slavoj Žižek

Living in the End Times

by Slavoj Žižek
Few thinkers illustrate the contradictions of contemporary capitalism better than the Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek. The financial and economic crisis has demonstrated the fragility of the free market system that its defenders believed had triumphed in the cold war; but there is no sign of anything resembling the socialist project that in the past was seen by many as embodying capitalism’s successor. Žižek’s work, which reflects this paradoxical situation in a number of ways, has made him one of the world’s best-known public intellectuals.

On the Road to Immortality

Ray Kurzweil, surrounded by some of the foods he recommends for living a longer life, November 2004

Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever

by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, M.D.

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

by Ray Kurzweil
First published in 2009, and more recently in a paperback edition, Transcend presents “an easy-to-follow program”—“a comprehensive exercise program, sample menus and recipes, precise dosages for supplements, when and where to obtain blood tests, and many other helpful details.” The program’s initial goal is “to slow down and in many …

Communists and Nazis: Just as Evil?

Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin at the Yalta conference, 
February 1945
The work of Avishai Margalit provides a refreshing and instructive contrast to much that has become conventionally accepted in recent political thinking, particularly about the moral conflicts that arise in pursuit of peace. A longtime peace activist in Israel as well as one of the most important philosophers working on …

The Way of All Debt

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

by Margaret Atwood
A perturbation arising from the American market in subprime mortgages has spread through the banking system to disrupt economic activity throughout the world. The pattern of cause and effect will be debated for many years, with historians asking when and how the global economy was set on the …