A sharp and informative guide to communication.

A distinguished actor and communication expert shows how to avoid “the snags of misunderstanding” that plague verbal interactions between human beings.

When Alda (Things I Overhead While Talking to Myself, 2007, etc.) first began hosting the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers in 1993, he had no idea how much the job would change his life. In the 20 years that followed, he developed an enduring fascination with “trying to figure out what makes communication work.” As a TV show host who interviewed scientists and engineers, Alda became painfully aware of his own shortcomings as a communicator and how his background as an actor could help him improve. In the first section of the book, he discusses how effective communication requires listening with ears, eyes, and feelings wide open. Drawing from research, interactions with science professionals, and his work as an actor, Alda reveals how individuals who aren’t “naturally good” communicators can learn to become more adept by practicing their overall relating skills. He describes activities like the “mirror exercise,” in which partners observe and mimic each other’s actions and speech. Not only do people learn how to focus on each other, but they also “strengthen cohesion and promote cooperation” in groups. In the second section, Alda, who founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, points out the importance of empathy in communication. He discusses, among others, an exercise that forced him to name the feelings he saw others express. Raising awareness of emotion increases empathy levels, which can trigger the release of oxytocin, the feel-good “love hormone.” By adding emotion to communication, using storytelling, avoiding jargon, and eliminating the assumption that others share the same knowledge base, message senders can forge closer bonds with recipients. The book’s major strength comes from Alda’s choice to take an interprofessional approach and avoid offering prescriptive methods to enhance interpersonal understanding. As he writes, communication “is a dance we learn by trusting ourselves to take the leap, not by mechanically following a set of rules.”

A sharp and informative guide to communication.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8914-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017



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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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