Fruitful reading for devout self-improvers, though Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind (2013), which covers some of the same...

THE SUPERHUMAN MIND

FREE THE GENIUS IN YOUR BRAIN

Another in a long line of you-can-be-Einstein treatises, blending hard neuroscience with parlor tricks.

Let’s say you meet someone new who tells you she’s turning 40 a few days hence. You nonchalantly tell her that she was born on a Friday. Have you become a Marilu Henner overnight? No: you just use an algorithm that allows you to “speed-calculate the weekday of any date within this or the last century.” Synesthete Brogaard, director of an eponymous lab for multisensory research at the University of Miami, doesn’t really take time to explore why one would want to be able to undertake this calculation, but there’s some neat stuff in her book, written with graduate student Marlow, all touching on the strange capabilities of the brain. One memorable turn, for example, is the use of fMRI to help recovering drug addicts use mental tricks to combat any cravings they might have for a particular drug (though the authors’ dismissive “So much for AA” seems an unnecessary dig). Some of their case studies come from the annals of what is generally coded as abnormal psychology, but more are simply wonderments: the real-life “super-savant” who inspired Rain Man, for instance. In real life, he was not autistic but instead had an undeveloped corpus callosum, which turns out to be “among the most common human brain malformations.” Just so, the trajectory of this book isn’t quite developed. The narrative ping-pongs among gee-whiz episodes of perfect pitch, sleepwalking, lucid dreaming, and clairvoyance without quite delivering the promise of the subtitle. However, there are some nicely thought-provoking moments, including the authors’ closing thoughts on the coming singularity. And how to thwart the robots? Get smarter than them, perhaps.

Fruitful reading for devout self-improvers, though Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind (2013), which covers some of the same ground, is more appealing and better written.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59463-368-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hudson Street/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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