A unique contribution to war literature.



A collective biography of five shell-shocked veterans of trench warfare.

Delving into mountains of personal papers, letters and photographs in London’s Imperial War Museum, Barrett (Modern Literary and Cultural Theory/Queen Mary, Univ. of London; Imagination in Theory: Culture, Writing, Words, and Things, 1999, etc.) tells stories of three soldiers and two military doctors. All witnessed terrible things, suffered mental breakdowns and seemed to recover, but the experience permanently colored their lives. Investigating the flood of psychiatric casualties among uninjured soldiers, World War I physicians preferred an organic cause, so the term “shell shock” entered the vocabulary. Experts explained that soldiers in proximity to explosions suffered subtle brain injuries, but readers will share the author’s shock at discovering how much the simple horror of trench life contributed to their breakdowns. Soldiers walked, slept, ate and fought among dead and rotting bodies and body parts. The smell of decaying corpses grew more intense during the summer and after battles, but it never vanished. “I thought by now the horrors of war could no longer shock me. I was wrong,” writes Bombardier Ronald Skirth. “It must have been some ghoulish influence that drew me to the old battlefield and three months after the fighting had ceased the mangled, putrefying bodies of men and beasts still lay awaiting burial.” Classic WWI memoirs (by Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and others) mention disgusting details of trench warfare, but those were written for publication and after time had softened the memories. The soldiers profiled here recorded their uncensored feelings on the spot. “The significant context of these life stories,” writes Barrett, “is not what can be remembered, but what has survived for us to study.” Fear and the death of comrades figure prominently, but it was the nauseating sights and smells that dominated their thoughts. When one of the author’s subjects, a doctor, revealed this to a postwar Parliamentary investigation into shell-shock, it was censored.

A unique contribution to war literature.

Pub Date: April 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-84467-104-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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