Neither wholly original (the authors cite Wendy Kaminer) nor wholly surprising, yet certain to spark reflection and...

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ONE NATION UNDER THERAPY

WHY SELF-ABSORPTION IS ERODING SELF-RELIANCE

A gauntlet-throwing assessment of the culture of therapy.

Sommers has made a career out of slaying sacred cows, trashing second-wave feminism, and arguing that boys get the short end of the stick in American schools and society (Who Stole Feminism? 1994; The War Against Boys, 2000). Part of her and Satel’s take now on the culture of therapy is historical. If “therapism”—a phrase the authors borrow from British satirist Fay Weldon—gained ascendancy in the age of tell-all talk shows, it still isn’t wholly new, with roots lying in the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. But the heart of Sommers and Satel’s approach is a scathing assessment of contemporary life. The authors scrutinize everything from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to grief counseling. Americans, they claim, now cast everything in therapeutic terms, unwilling even to describe serial murderers as evil, but chalking up their heinous deeds to a generic version of “battered-child syndrome.” Addicts avoid personal responsibility for drinking or shooting up by characterizing addiction as a disease. Sommers and Satel are especially concerned about therapy’s effects on children. Indeed, their examples of its invasion of childhood can be breathtaking: that Girl Scouts can now earn a “Stress Less” badge by burning aromatic candles and practicing meditative breathing, or that numerous schools have discouraged dodgeball because throwing a ball at a child might make him feel besieged. Sommers and Satel contend that this pandering to children’s feelings “pathologizes healthy young people” and is good neither for kids nor society. The authors, though, are long on critique and short on suggestions for change: they advocate reticence instead of wholesale openness and sharing, and urge parents to demand more homework—and the return of dodgeball. But readers are likely to wish for a chapter or two of more concrete proposals.

Neither wholly original (the authors cite Wendy Kaminer) nor wholly surprising, yet certain to spark reflection and conversation.

Pub Date: April 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-30443-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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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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