A beguiling account of the critical role smell plays in our lives.

WHAT THE NOSE KNOWS

THE SCIENCE OF SCENT IN EVERYDAY LIFE

A scientist tells us entertaining things about odors both pleasant and foul.

Olfactory researcher and psychologist Gilbert asks a dozen questions in no particular order and then answers them—often with “we don’t know,” but always with enthusiasm and wit. How many smells are there? About 10,000, declared two scientists who won the Nobel Prize for smell research, a figure regularly quoted by other experts. Tracking down this conveniently round number, Gilbert discovers that scientists are quoting from earlier scientists, who found it in a still older scientific paper that cites an even earlier researcher, who seems to have picked the number out of his hat. Scientists today can analyze a tiny sample of a chemical, perfume, food aroma or flatulence and obtain a precise molecular breakdown of every ingredient. Does that mean they can design a new scent by manipulating atoms, the same way medical scientists design new antibiotics? Not yet, the author admits. He disagrees with biologists who claim evolution has withered smell into the least important human sense; actually, he maintains, evolution is expanding our capabilities in this area, and smell is as essential as vision or hearing. Research shows that we detect smells as acutely as monkeys and apes and don’t do badly compared with more distant relatives. Nose to the ground, humans can follow a scent trail. Along with tool use and a large brain, cooking is one of the traits that separate modern humans from their ancestors. Not only does it make food easier to digest, but the spectacular complexity of food preparation and our intense preoccupation with flavors (in which smell plays a far greater role than taste) are uniquely human attributes.

A beguiling account of the critical role smell plays in our lives.

Pub Date: July 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-8234-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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