Want to be cunning? You might wish you were more clever, more flexible, able to cut a few corners without getting caught, to dive now and again into iniquity and surface clutching a prize. You might want to roll your eyes at those slaves of duty who play by the rules. Or you might think there's something sleazy about that stance, even if it does seem to pay off. Does that make you a chump?
With pointedly mischievous prose, Don Herzog explores what's alluring and what's revolting in cunning. He draws on a colorful range of sources: tales of Odysseus; texts from Machiavelli; pamphlets from early modern England; salesmen's newsletters; Christian apologetics; plays; sermons; philosophical treatises; detective novels; famous, infamous, and obscure historical cases; and more.
The book is in three parts, bookended by two murderous churchmen. "Dilemmas" explores some canonical moments of cunning and introduces the distinction between knaves and fools as a "time-honored but radically deficient scheme." "Appearances" assails conventional approaches to unmasking. Surveying ignorance and self-deception, "Despair?" deepens the case that we ought to be cunning--and then sees what we might say in response.
Throughout this beguiling book, Herzog refines our sense of what's troubling in this terrain. He shows that rationality, social roles, and morality are tangled together--and trickier than we thought.
"[In] his sparkling new book . . . Don Herzog doesn't say his subject changed the world, though it would be hard to imagine the world without it. He lets cunning lead us toward a broadened idea of human behavior."--Robert Fulford, National Post
"In Cunning, Mr. Herzog's playful and wide-ranging new book, he meditates on the tricks played by Henry Tufts, Odysseus, and used-car salesmen, among many others. Acts of cunning, Mr. Herzog says, can teach us about social roles, the limits of rationality, and the contradictions the lie within utilitarian and Kantian moral arguments."--David Glenn, Chronicle of Higher Education
This pleasingly original little volume is bookended by two tales of murderous priests. . . . In prose that conveys a deliciously convivial murmur (the author is a law professor who hates most academic writing), Herzog proceeds to discuss Odysseus, Machiavelli, car salesmen and confidence tricksters, believers in angels, astrology and demons, jazz musicians and pirates, both eliciting out sympathy for the variety of human moral life and refusing the paranoiac conclusion that all around us are knaves. Very cunning indeed."--Steven Poole, The Guardian
"At the start of this extraordinary book we are invited to view cunning as a nobody, and nobody as cunning. By its conclusion, we are left to struggle with the thought that cunning is everybody, and that everybody is cunning. Like Odysseus himself, the reader who undertakes this labyrinthine journey will have many tales to tell, and will be very much the wiser for it."--John C. P. Goldberg, Michigan Law Review
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