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FLUKE

CHANCE, CHAOS, AND WHY EVERYTHING WE DO MATTERS

A handy user’s manual to a surprising, improbable, “infinitely complex” world.

In which the course of life becomes a series of dice rolls, each of no small consequence.

The history of humankind, writes Atlantic contributor Klaas, “is just an endless, but futile, struggle to impose order, certainty, and rationality onto a world defined by disorder, chance, and chaos.” Furthermore, our actions have consequences that can’t always be foreseen. The author begins with the example of American statesman Henry Stimson, who stayed in a posh hotel in Kyoto, Japan, in the mid-1920s and 20 years later ordered that the city be spared from an atomic bombing, leaving Hiroshima and Nagasaki to take the blow. What might have happened had Stimson not stayed there? The world, he writes, “seems to seesaw between contingency and convergence.” It is an infinite improbability that we are alive today, and yet here we are, thanks to an asteroid impact (and/or volcano eruptions) that incinerated the dinosaurs and ended the age of reptiles. Against all this, one should never be surprised when Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s black swans come home to roost. “Our lives are frequently disrupted by large social shocks such as financial crises, pandemics, and wars,” Klaas notes, and whenever we try to control the complex systems that drive them, we usually wind up on the losing side of the enterprise. Contingency rules, and, as the author sagely notes, we should congratulate ourselves less heartily for success and kick ourselves less savagely for failure. Yet in a world of chance, we still have an effect: “What you do matters. But it also matters that it’s you, and not somebody else, who’s doing it.” The book can provoke existential unease, but it also helps explain the cockamamie nature of the way things are, and it’s an always-interesting read.

A handy user’s manual to a surprising, improbable, “infinitely complex” world.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2024

ISBN: 9781668006528

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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