A surprisingly poignant, intellectually rigorous study of how our thought processes shape our lives.



A thoroughly researched, pop-culture–laden exploration of how people make choices.

Gates posits that the human mind can essentially be divided into two “systems,” the subconscious (System 1) and the conscious (System 2). Although the commonly accepted thinking is that our conscious, rational minds make better, more informed decisions, Gates argues that the spontaneous, often emotional reactions of the subconscious influence us far more than we’d like to admit. People who deny this reality and rely purely on System 2, the author says, won’t benefit as much as those who recognize and make use of their System 1 impulses. This intriguing book drives home the notion that “the Truth” isn’t a solidly defined fact but rather a perpetually shifting, ambiguous process. It’s led people to search for meaning and patterns that often aren’t there, Gates says; they fool themselves into thinking that they “know” what the best choice is, when in fact, they have no solid idea. The author notes German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer’s notion that “[t]he art...is to ignore the right kind of information.” To further illustrate its concepts, the book uses a variety of examples, examining the art of storytelling, statistics games, and quotes from leaders who engaged in ill-fated wars and political endeavors. It also makes artful use of pop-cultural references (such as a Dilbert cartoon) to elegantly encapsulate its complex subject matter. Gates opens the book with an anecdote about the various mistakes in judgment that led to the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle explosion, which serves as a visceral framing device to examine choices that NASA made that were based on faulty thinking. In this example, the author reveals that sometimes people make decisions based on the fact that an event has not transpired, and they therefore irrationally believe that it will never occur. As Gates states numerous times, this absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence, and yet people still perceive information based largely on what they wish it to mean.

A surprisingly poignant, intellectually rigorous study of how our thought processes shape our lives.

Pub Date: April 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499004106

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 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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