The dismal science is no longer quite so dismal with the arrival of this wonderfully instructive report.




A smart reporter with an instinctive tilt to the left, Garson (All the Livelong Day, not reviewed, etc.) follows her money around the world in this perceptive financial odyssey.

First Garson deposited half of her book advance ($29,500 net) in a charming one-horse bank in New York State. Part of that hoard proceeded, through the Fed Funds desk at Chase, to finance a letter of credit for a seafood wholesaler to an Asian shrimp distributor. Chase moved more of the reporter’s capital from rustic New York to rural Thailand, where Caltex used it to construct a refinery. On the spoor of her dollars, the intrepid author got to know the earnest engineers and the indentured laborers among the cadres of visiting workers. From Hong Kong to uptight Singapore, she learned the ways of East Asia. The other half of the advance was lodged with a mutual fund managed by the redoubtable Michael Price, who pushed Chase into the encompassing arms of Chemical Bank. The result was lots of pink slips and extra moolah for the mutual-fund investors. Garson’s fund, to wring cash out of Sunbeam (which it controlled), called in “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap to restructure the venerable appliance maker. Dunlap publicized himself, outsourced, jiggled the books, fired executives and line employees alike, and, finally, utterly destroyed Sunbeam. Following her dollars, the author attended plant closings in Tennessee and Maine, painting sympathetic portraits of displaced workers. Without charts or graphs or technical jargon, her text puts a human face on capital development loans, Malaysian labor policies, and IMF strictures. Unreconstructed liberal as capitalist and investor, the author takes a proprietary, personal approach to her refinery, her lawn-furniture factory, and her prawn farm. At the end, she longs “to see the bankers and investors suffer, just once, some of the personal insecurity and loss that their schemes inflict upon others.”

The dismal science is no longer quite so dismal with the arrival of this wonderfully instructive report.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-86660-1

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.


A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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