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In this brilliant, epigrammatic book, the eminent psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and the social historian Barbara Taylor examine the terrors of kindness and return to the reader the intense satisfactions of generosity and compassion.
Kindness is the foundation of the world's great religions and most-enduring philosophies. Why, then, does being kind feel so dangerous? If we crave kindness with such intensity, why is it often the last pleasure we permit ourselves? And why—despite our longing—are we often suspicious when we are on the receiving end of it?
Drawing on intellectual history, literature, psychoanalysis, and contemporary social theory, this brief and essential book will return to its readers what Marcus Aurelius declared was mankind's "greatest delight": the intense satisfactions of generosity and compassion.
BARBARA TAYLOR is Reader in History at the University of East London, UK, and author of Eve and the New Jerusalem (1983) and Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (2003). She was Director of the 'Feminism and Enlightenment' research project (1998-2001).
“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.” —Time.com
“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