Not your grandpa’s self-help book, but Duckworth’s text is oddly encouraging, exhorting us to do better by trying harder,...

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GRIT

THE POWER OF PASSION AND PERSEVERANCE

Gumption: it’s not just for readers of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as this debut book, blending anecdote and science, statistic and yarn, capably illustrates.

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? It could be, to trust MacArthur fellow Duckworth, that you’re just not working hard enough—which is to say, you just don’t have enough grit. That old-fashioned term, appropriated by a newfangled scholar, is meant to combine the notions of passion, persistence, and hard work in more or less equal measure. That passion, Duckworth argues, “begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do.” Self-confidence figures into the equation, the assuredness that you have the ability to do what you do with at least some measure of success; but then, the ability to cope with failure, dust yourself off, and try again comes into play as well. Duckworth makes great effort to downplay any idea of innate talent in favor of improvement and mastery that come from digging in and doing it. “If we overemphasize talent,” she urges, “we underemphasize everything else.” In the nature vs. nurture controversy, the author sides with nurture, and there’s more than a little of the tiger mom in the prescriptions she dispenses for education. But on that note, she writes, teachers who are demanding may “produce measurable year-to-year gains in the academic skills of their students.” But throw a little love, supportiveness, and respect into the mix, and you build better people. For Duckworth, there should be no trophies for just showing up. When she writes of hard work in building the “gritty person,” she means hard work, as evidenced by her close study of West Pointers during their first and worst year, when 20 percent of the students drop out in a cohort carefully selected for their ability to stay on task until the task is done.

Not your grandpa’s self-help book, but Duckworth’s text is oddly encouraging, exhorting us to do better by trying harder, and a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1110-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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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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