More readable than most studies of its kind, Lindblom’s overview raises as many questions as it answers—and offers much food...

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THE MARKET SYSTEM

WHAT IT IS, HOW IT WORKS, AND WHAT TO MAKE OF IT

A roundabout but illuminating attempt to define a slippery economic construct.

“Although the market system is roughly familiar to all of us,” writes Lindblom (Economics/Yale Univ.), “not even economists wholly understand it.” That is understandable, given all the things that the market system is, at least in the author’s account: an “extraordinary social process,” a motivator and coordinator of human activity, a peacekeeper and cause of conflict, an ally and enemy of freedom, a destroyer and producer of inequalities. Lindblom observes that all existing societies make use of markets, but not all have developed mechanisms whereby the conjunction of buyer and seller takes precedence over any program of state planning; the market system, in his definition, involves the “societywide coordination of human activities not by central command but by mutual interactions in the form of transactions.” His insistence on the supremacy of individuals is not mere libertarian cant; he recognizes that certain market-state hybrids have proved effective, that the state can perform certain needed tasks that the market cannot, and that individuals and corporations are capable of extremely bad faith. But, he adds, at its best the market system is a pattern of cooperative behavior where people somehow overcome naked self-interest to act in ways that yield mutual benefit, and where individuals, by voting with their wallets, have a direct influence on how that behavior is conducted. The leading enemies of that cooperative system are not the statist ideologies of old, Lindblom suggests, but instead “reckless banking and incompetent governmental regulation of financial markets,” which can instantly undo the efforts of millions. But even where relatively unhindered and apparently smoothly functioning market systems prevail, and even where consumer goods are more and more available in an ever more marketized world, he notes that people are declaring themselves to be increasingly less happy—yet another of many puzzles that the market poses.

More readable than most studies of its kind, Lindblom’s overview raises as many questions as it answers—and offers much food for thought.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-300-08752-7

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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