An engaging, informative overview of interesting linguistic matters.

An expansive look at how humans communicate.

Everett, a professor of anthropology and psychology and author of Numbers and the Making of Us, offers an enlightening examination of human communication based on the findings of linguist fieldworkers—himself included—as well as researchers in areas such as cognitive psychology, data science, and respiratory medicine. Whereas early theories about language commonalities and evolution were largely based on languages spoken in “Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) societies,” a wider range of inquiry into more than 7,000 languages has revealed “unexpected and profound” linguistic and cognitive diversity. The author discusses variations in words designating time and space, noting that “some aspects of time that seem so ‘natural’ to us English speakers may seem unnatural to speakers of many other languages.” Some languages have no tenses to indicate past, present, and future, while others have more than three tenses. Similarly, even within similar environments, “people talk about space in sometimes unpredictable ways”—e.g., using egocentric or geocentric ways of referring to spatial orientation. In denoting kinship, too, languages may vary according to the speaker’s relationship to another individual. In languages that have gendered nouns (Spanish, French, German), categorization of people and objects is motivated, “in some cases but not in others, by associations with biological sex.” Everett draws on abundant research investigating sensory words, such as those referring to color, taste, and smell, to reveal great variety “across the world’s languages. He identifies WEIRD languages as having a particularly “impoverished language of smells.” Physiognomy and environment contribute to linguistic diversity, as well. “The relationship between bite type and labiodental consonants,” writes the author, “ultimately hints at a relationship between the environments in which people live and some of the sounds they use to distinguish their thoughts when communicating.” Surprisingly, though, one word seems universal, “conveying a common thought in a predictable phonetic package”—the monosyllabic “huh.”

An engaging, informative overview of interesting linguistic matters.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 9780674976580

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2023


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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