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Book Review: by Lang Reid
(978-0-385-61328-6, Doubleday, 2008), with the subtitle “Why we can’t
help ourselves” was just too provocative for me to leave on the
Bookazine shelves as I scoured for something interesting to review for this
The author Richard Girling is an awarded journalist in the UK, with two
previous books. In his Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, he
writes, “My aim was not to excoriate ‘greedy’ people but rather to explore
the ways in which greed and its progeny – selfishness, jealousy, ambition –
are essential not just to our well-being and enjoyment of life but also to
our success as a species.
Gourmet tastes, according to Girling is purely greed with a collar and tie
on, as he outlines the difference between the supposed hunger of the
affluent looking through a menu, and those genuinely hungry and without
food. Bangkok gets its vainglorious mention as having the world’s most
expensive dinner at 1 million baht, which he writes is “accepted as amusing
follies and not offences against decency.”
Our proclivity for sex gets its own chapter, but he does say that sexual
statistics are about as reliable as paper condoms. “We promise fidelity but
practice deceit.” Mother worship and sexual repression came with the advent
of the so called civilizations, but has resulted in good old fashioned
sexual greed says Girling, and he is probably right!
Santa Claus comes in for his fair share of discussion, and just how we have
manipulated holidays to suit the ruling religions of the day. He also
touches on the banning of Christmas by what he calls “the boot-faced magi of
political correctness who fear causing offence to other religions.”
Spurred on, if it were, the organized religions also get their comeuppance
where he counters the churches protestations of how much good they have done
for the world with, “We may or may not agree that this is a fair return for
holy wars, religious persecutions, obstruction of science and intolerance of
In a later chapter he states “As homo sapiens, as far as we know, is the
only species with the intelligence to foresee its own death, the promise of
an afterlife provides powerful motivation for our earthly endeavors.” And,
“The whole of society is a rubble of colliding faiths and factions: it is
our base motives, implanted by our genes, that make it so.”
Globalization, the World Bank, the IMF and how such monies pander to the
greed in dictators, the ‘greed’ that is within us, a built-in non-delete
option of the human being itself. We are greedy because it is our nature to
be so. It always has been that way. We should not be surprised.
At B. 595, this is a totally engrossing book, even if only for the wonderful
use of the English language. This eloquent work has not been written for 12
year olds, but for mature ‘thinking’ adults. If you are of the former group,
don’t even bother opening the book, many of the words have more than five
letters. If you are of the latter ilk, buy this book. You will be delighted.
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