A unique contribution to war literature.

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CASUALTY FIGURES

HOW FIVE MEN SURVIVED WORLD WAR ONE

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...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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