An unusual self-help book, of particular use to those contemplating writing a memoir or otherwise revisiting their past.

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LIFE IS IN THE TRANSITIONS

MASTERING CHANGE IN A NONLINEAR AGE

“Life is the story you tell yourself.” So writes the bestselling author, encouraging readers to discover that story for themselves.

The meaning of our lives becomes clear only through storytelling: How did you survive being rejected in work or love? How did you make your way through divorce, illness, war? One thing that storytelling tells us is that the arc of life is never so neat as a fairy tale. Feiler writes that while many of us assume the path of life is one of upward progress, we “are shocked to discover they oscillate instead.” It seems unlikely that any adult would be so shocked, but the assertion makes a useful hook on which the author hangs the idea that lives have different shapes—some butterflies, some spirals, some, to borrow from the British, pears. Feiler continues, abandoning notions of linearity for the sloppy, unpredictable courses that we live, whether through life-threatening illness or accident, drug addiction, the loss of job or loved one, and so forth. He is generous in opening his pages to the stories of others by way of illustration. One of the most affecting relates the tale of the granddaughter of Gen. George Patton, who had been born into wealth and prestige and abandoned it to become a nun—a path that did not happen overnight, thanks to an abbess who ordered her to go live a little beforehand, marking the transition to holy orders thus: “Go slow; insist on deep, personal reflection; mark each stage of the journey with carefully constructed rituals that delineate and demarcate the new status achieved.” That seems a useful mantra for lives lived in the secular world as well, and Feiler provides plenty of examples as well as a well-constructed set of questions as prompts for reflection.

An unusual self-help book, of particular use to those contemplating writing a memoir or otherwise revisiting their past.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59420-682-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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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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