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On Kindness


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About the Author

Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and the author of twelve books, all widely acclaimed, including On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; Going Sane; and, most recently, Side Effects.

Barbara Taylor has published several highly regarded books on the history of feminism, including the award-winning Eve and the New Jerusalem.She and Adam Phillips both live in London.


This small, weighty book combines the insights of psychoanalyst Phillips (Side Effects) and historian Taylor (Eve and the New Jerusalem) in five eloquent chapters-three flowing, two turbulent. The former are historical, philosophical, and political and the latter psychological. The authors follow kindness from its mother-child origin, where security and vulnerability coexist. Kindness entails risk, is not selfless, and changes people as "it mingles our needs and desires with the needs and desires of others, in a way that self-interest never can." Accounts of Western views of kindness from biblical times through Hobbes, Hume, and especially Rousseau enchant the reader up to Freud, when the text drags in the incest taboo, degradation of the sexual woman, and other paradoxes of early and modern psychoanalysis. Overall, however, this is a profound exploration of a topic relegated too much to places of worship or child care. The loss of kindness in a society where selfishness is a virtue becomes "a cultural disaster." Highly recommended.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Tightly packed with insights into our riven human heart . . . Seamless and a pleasure to read . . . a rich and provocative book, revealing the complexity of a simple-seeming virtue." --The Washington Post Book World"Readable and absorbing . . . a concentrated essay on a limited but deeply important subject is to be highly valued. " --The Guardian (UK)"Eloquent . . . A profound exploration of [kindness] . . . highly recommended." --Library Journal"Employs history, social theory, and psychoanalysis to chart how kindness has become a pejorative word over the years.""On Kindness wears its erudition lightly and with great grace." --Booklist"If we have all become more self-interested and self-serving, Phillips and Taylor suggest a little more altruism as an antidote to angst and alienation . . . Theirs is a true tract for difficult times." --Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)"Part of the purpose of this short book is to reinstate [kindness] as something necessary both to our personal happiness and our communal well-being. This seems to me a totally admirable aim . . . A concentrated essay on a limited but deeply important subject is to be highly valued." --Mary Warnock, The Observer (London)"[An] elegant meditation on kindness . . . In a competitive, stressed-out, paranoid, cynical, celebrity-obsessed, credit-crunched society, this might seem a barmy philosophy. As Phillips and Taylor show--clearly, coherently and completely unsentimentally--it's a completely sensible one." --David Robinson, The Scotsman"[Phillips is] one of the finest prose stylists at work in the language, an Emerson of our time." --John Banville on Adam Phillips"The curious thing about reading Phillips is that he makes you feel smart and above the daily grind at the same time as he reassures you that you are not alone in your primal anxieties about whether you are lovable or nuts or, perhaps, merely boring." --Daphne Merkin on Adam Phillips, The New York Times Magazine"Phillips is . . . a bit like an Oliver Sacks of psychoanalysis, both affable and unalarmed." --Gail Caldwell on Adam Phillips, The Boston Sunday Globe"[Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination] will be essential reading for many years to come . . . Superb . . . Well-written." --Caroline Franklin on Barbara Taylor, The Times Literary Supplement

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