Provocative, entertaining and often wholly unconvincing.




A lively excursion into the new, and still disputed, field of Evolutionary Psychology.

In this introduction, Miller, who died at age 44 of Hodgkin’s Disease before the book’s completion, and Kanazawa ask readers to examine the life choices they’ve made and re-cast them as evolutionary destiny. A female reader out there may remember the time she tried to dye her hair blonde and came out looking like Ronald McDonald, while a male might cast his mind back to the night he got drunk on Jim Beam and swore to go out looking for the bastard who stole his woman away. In fact, think of almost any foolish, or even sensible, thing you’ve ever done, and the authors would explain it as the result of the irresistible force of sexual selection, a cornerstone of the arguments underlying Evolutionary Psychology. Why do women want to be blonde? Because, argue the authors, men prefer to mate with blonde women. Why do men prefer to mate with blonde women? Because hair darkens as it ages, and so blonde hair (pre-Clairol) is a sign of youth, and therefore greater fertility and health. Why do men want to perpetrate violence on sexual rivals? Because men are forever less certain of the paternity of a child than women can be of the maternity, and to care for a child not of your own lineage is to let your genes die with you. While the explanations often feel more like elaborate exercises in logic than true science (after all, blondes are not indigenous to all parts of the world, so cultural forces must come into play somewhere), the authors do maintain a peppy, sly tone throughout the book, making each explanation (to questions such as, “Why is Sexual Harassment so Persistent?” and “Why are diamonds a girl’s best friend?”) interesting, if not entirely persuasive. The tone sometimes shifts toward an exasperated defensiveness, but because this is a relatively new, still hotly contested discipline, perhaps this is to be expected.

Provocative, entertaining and often wholly unconvincing.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-399-53365-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Perigee/Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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