Entertaining, enlightening and refreshingly light on psychobabble.



A researcher who is both a scholar and an experienced motivational speaker makes the subject of personality psychology come to life.

Little (Psychology and Business/Cambridge Univ.; co-editor: Personal Project Pursuit: Goals, Action, and Human Flourishing, 2006) explains the factors that constitute one’s personality and how those personality traits affect one’s outlook on life. Personality psychology is broad in scope, looking not just at the major traits or dimensions of personality—conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion (the author’s preferred spelling)—but also at their biological, social and cultural influences (“personality is more complex than the simple acting out of our biological dispositions”). In addition to these relatively stable traits, Little introduces the concept of free traits, behaviors that arise from pursuit of core personal projects that give one’s life meaning and emotional richness. To explore this concept, he not only describes experiments and cites research, but he also entertains with anecdotes featuring himself, former students and clients. In the early chapters, the author opens with choice quotes from assorted sources—William James, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Federico Fellini, T.S. Eliot, Erasmus, Aldous Huxley and even Lady Gaga—but he inexplicably abandons this pattern in the second half of the book. Scattered throughout the text are a number of personality inventories, scales and quizzes that Little invites readers to take—but not too seriously. Their purpose here is not to diagnose but to promote self-reflection. The book could be considered a self-help book, but it is by no means a do-it-yourself instruction manual. Rather, the author introduces concepts in personality psychology that may be relevant to readers’ personal situations and invites readers to reflect on them and perhaps apply them.

Entertaining, enlightening and refreshingly light on psychobabble.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1586489670

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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 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...


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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