A call, in a few pointed words, for an expanded, genuine work ethic.

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WHY WE WORK

Schwartz (Psychology/Swarthmore Coll.; The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, 2003, etc.) begs to differ with Adam Smith—it’s not simply wages that keep people working.

Despite what we may have thought or been taught, it takes much more than just money to incite us to keep our noses to the grindstone. For worthwhile labor, writes the author, financial self-interest is not the sole answer. There are also ethics, empathy, and judgment on the job. Integrity often beats cash incentives, and a bad occupation can be transformed by integrity into good work. The dream of work allied with ethos is certainly not new, despite the efficiency of the assembly line perfected by Ford so many decades ago. The success of that way of doing things eventually became undeniable, but a better ideology, one that recognizes worker satisfaction, autonomy, and purpose, can become reality too. Schwartz argues that there can be profitable businesses in which employees thrive and maintain standards beyond cash. He prescribes, nevertheless, above-market wages (it makes employees feel valued) and job security, decentralized decision-making, and increased training applied to various fields including education, health care, and law. In other words, we require a revision of much of human nature. The author cites numerous social scientists, management gurus, and efficiency experts, and he revives venerable anecdotes—e.g, the tale of the wise hospital custodian who cleans a room twice rather than agitate a patient’s parent—to light the way. Schwartz’s TED book, less than 100 pages, grew out of his latest TED talk, and while it contains a decent number of intriguing nuggets regarding the intersection of work and happiness, his argument requires further fleshing out.

A call, in a few pointed words, for an expanded, genuine work ethic.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8486-1

Page Count: 120

Publisher: TED/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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