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THE BASIC LAWS OF HUMAN STUPIDITY

Worldviews of Forrest Gump and an ancient Roman satirist converge in a seriocomic analysis of human stupidity.

In a new edition of a self-published 1976 essay, Italian economic historian Cipolla (1922-2000) posits that the most dangerous people are the stupid ones.

The author takes a tongue-in-cheek, socio-economic view of human folly in a slim book that divides people into four groups—“the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit, and the stupid”—based on whether they and others gain or lose from their behavior. The helpless gain little from their actions, though others may profit; the intelligent gain from their actions as others also benefit; and the bandits gain as others lose. The stupid gain nothing and may suffer losses as they harm others, and they are therefore the most dangerous. Bandits may have sinister motives, but their actions follow a logic that allows others to predict and defend against them—they act out of a rational self-interest—while the stupid are “erratic and irrational.” The author gives all of this material a quasi-scientific air by calling his theories “laws” and by inserting graphs showing quadrants with X and Y axes, including four worksheets in an appendix that let readers fill in friends’ propensities for certain traits. These devices should fool no one, however: Cipolla gives no hard data to support his “laws” and no firm definitions of terms such as gains, losses, or irrational. The author instead melds the acidic satirical spirit of his ancient Roman compatriot Juvenal—who railed against stupidity—with the good cheer of a proto–Forrest Gump, whose version of “actions speak louder than words” was, “Stupid is as stupid does.” The defect or genius of this book—depending on your view—is that, like a Rorschach test, it lets readers project their views onto what they see on the page. The foreword by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is surprisingly disappointing.

Worldviews of Forrest Gump and an ancient Roman satirist converge in a seriocomic analysis of human stupidity.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54647-8

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

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