A moving examination of the variety of gender and erotic preferences, presented with varying degrees of persuasiveness as...

NORMAL

TRANSSEXUAL CEOS, CROSSDRESSING COPS, AND HERMAPHRODITES WITH ATTITUDE

Psychoanalyst and story-writer Bloom (A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, 2000, etc.) aims to expand our notion of what is normal by showing up-close the lives of people widely considered to be abnormal: female-to-male transsexuals, heterosexual cross-dressers, and the intersexed.

Individuals who have altered female bodies to match their male self-concept, plastic surgeons who perform female-to-male sex change surgery, and psychiatric researchers into transsexual transition all share their thoughts with the author, and the surgeons also provide graphic images of their handiwork. Bloom takes the reader to a conference of transsexuals and cross-dressers at a southern motel, on a Carnival cruise hosting heterosexual cross-dressers and their wives, and to a Missouri convention of cross-dressers featuring a beauty pageant. She describes these men with a fetish for women’s clothes as “Presbyterian accountants from Cedar Rapids and Lutheran ministers from Omaha . . . decent, kind, intelligent, and willing to talk openly.” (Their wives seem resigned yet supportive.) Perhaps the saddest chapter of Bloom’s report on gender variability is the one on hermaphrodites, as intersexed individuals are often called. The assumption that a baby born with a minuscule, malformed penis or a greatly enlarged clitoris would be better off “normalized” has led physicians to perform reconstructive surgery on newborns, an approach that is now challenged by the Intersex Society of America, which urges doctors to proceed with caution and provides counsel and support to parents. The angry voice of someone subjected to childhood surgery, declared first a girl, then a boy, then a girl, makes for painful reading. Yet the intersexed are the least convincing cases in Bloom’s contention that nature is infinite in its variety and has not made mistakes with these people; she makes her strongest argument with the examples of heterosexual cross-dressers.

A moving examination of the variety of gender and erotic preferences, presented with varying degrees of persuasiveness as examples of nature’s vast spectrum of possibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-45652-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

THE ART OF THINKING CLEARLY

A waggish, cautionary compilation of pitfalls associated with systematic cognitive errors, from novelist Dobelli.

To be human is to err, routinely and with bias. We exercise deviation from logic, writes the author, as much as, and possibly more than, we display optimal reasoning. In an effort to bring awareness to this sorry state of affairs, he has gathered here—in three-page, anecdotally saturated squibs—nearly 100 examples of muddied thinking. Many will ring familiar to readers (Dobelli’s illustrations are not startlingly original, but observant)—e.g., herd instinct and groupthink, hindsight, overconfidence, the lack of an intuitive grasp of probability or statistical reality. Others, if not new, are smartly encapsulated: social loafing, the hourly rate trap, decision fatigue, carrying on with a lost cause (the sunk-cost fallacy). Most of his points stick home: the deformation of professional thinking, of which Mark Twain said, “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails”; multitasking is the illusion of attention with potentially dire results if you are eating a sloppy sandwich while driving on a busy street. In his quest for clarity, Dobelli mostly brings shrewdness, skepticism and wariness to bear, but he can also be opaque—e.g., shaping the details of history “into a consistent story...we speak about ‘understanding,’ but these things cannot be understood in the traditional sense. We simply build the meaning into them afterward.” Well, yes. And if we are to be wary of stories, what are we to make of his many telling anecdotes when he counsels, “Anecdotes are a particularly tricky sort of cherry picking....To rebuff an anecdote is difficult because it is a mini-story, and we know how vulnerable our brains are to those”?

Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-221968-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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