Alternately engaging and exasperating dispatches from a conflicted nation.




A report from India at a point of enormous transition—and the news is never really good.

As the Economist’s former South Asia correspondent, now based in Paris, British journalist Roberts (The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa, 2006) offers a kind of resigned love letter to his adopted country of five years, taking India’s fondness for hyperbole literally with an ironic focus on the four terms it often uses to regard itself: “superfast, primetime, ultimate nation.” Breaking these down, the author equates “superfast” with the economy; “primetime” with politics; “ultimate” is its relations with others countries like China, Pakistan, and America; and “nation” means how the country sees itself. The diversity of the world’s largest democracy is both a boon and a drawback, and the economic enrichment since the 1990s is scattershot. Roberts explores both the poorest area, the rural northeast (“landlocked on the wrong side of Bangladesh”), where tea-pickers make less than $1 per day, and the most affluent, Gujarat, home to the highly motivated nationalist Hindu prime minister Narendra Modi. Despite the progressive steps the nation has taken toward its citizens’ well-being and national health, the author must drop caveats at every milestone: while the youthfulness of the country points to a dynamic future workforce, one-third of India’s population is stunted and underweight; family dynasties like the "Sonia-and-Singh Show” clog avenues toward liberal promise; tech dreams are derailed by corruption and faulty infrastructure; 120 male babies are being born for every 100 females, pointing to the most alarming demographics in South Asia; the egregious treatment of the environment and dearth of basic health services (in 2016, “130 million Indian households lacked toilets”), electricity, and education; and Modi’s government’s abysmal sectarian relations. Ultimately, there is no comparison to China, already eons ahead, and India’s need for political will is crying out. So what next for the Asian juggernaut that has not quite delivered?

Alternately engaging and exasperating dispatches from a conflicted nation.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61039-669-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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


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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