As good a look as we’re likely to get about an organization where, Ellsberg notwithstanding, keeping secrets is second...

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SOLDIERS OF REASON

THE RAND CORPORATION AND THE RISE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE

A crisp history of the world’s most influential think tank, which the Soviet publication Pravda once called the “academy of science and death.”

The Manhattan Project proved to the military during World War II the efficacy of assistance from independent civilian scientists. Seeking to maintain that link and understanding the need to cope with peacetime threats to national security, Air Force hot shots, including the legendary Generals Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold and Curtis LeMay, helped to found RAND (for “research and development”). Throughout the next half-century, RAND’s intellectual gunslingers—its researchers and advisors have won 27 Nobel Prizes—expanded their role and helped set large portions of America’s military and political agenda. RAND’s detractors accuse the corporation of subordinating morality to the achievement of U.S. government policy, of operating wholly without conscience and of practically inventing the Cold War. Los Angeles Times contributor and novelist Abella (Final Acts, 2000, etc.) takes a swipe at the problematic implications for the country of RAND’s seeming amorality, but he deals far more successfully with the corporation’s history, particularly the early years, and the procession of larger-than-life personalities who passed through RAND’s portals and who influenced the nation’s thinking far more than any single policy paper the institute produced. RAND’s luminaries have included the brilliant mathematician John von Neumann, thermonuclear war expert (and model for Dr. Strangelove) Herman Kahn, national-security expert and Cold War strategist Albert Wohlstetter, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, and even the humorist Leo Rosten. Its theorists have contributed to our everyday lexicon such words and phrases as “fail-safe,” “doomsday machine,” “systems analysis,” “futurology,” “zero-sum game” and “prisoner’s dilemma.” How many enemy factories can we destroy with the kind of aircraft we possess? After a nuclear exchange, would the living truly envy the dead? Paid to think the unthinkable, RAND’s analysts and their mission come off here as simultaneously marvelous and horrible.

As good a look as we’re likely to get about an organization where, Ellsberg notwithstanding, keeping secrets is second nature.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-15-101081-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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