Bound to have wide popular appeal.



A fascinating look at little-known illusions that greatly affect our daily lives.

Chabris (Psychology/Union Coll.) and Simons (Psychology/Univ. of Illinois) won a 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for their widely reported “gorilla experiment,” which showed that when people focus on one thing, it's easy to overlook other things—even a woman in a gorilla suit. In their debut, they explore this habit of “inattentional blindness” and other common ways in which we distort our perception of reality. Their readable book offers surprising insights into just how clueless we are about how our minds work and how we experience the world. We think we see, know, remember or have the capacity to do something, when we actually do not. Recounting recent research and real-life examples, the authors focus on six illusions that make us overestimate our mental abilities. The illusion of attention allows us to look right at something and not consciously see it, as in the case of a gorilla appearing on court during a basketball game. The illusion of memory makes us believe we recall events precisely, when in fact we may embellish personal recollections of emotional moments like 9/11, and may even unintentionally plagiarize, thinking an idea is our own. Similarly, we hoodwink ourselves into overestimating our abilities (with the least skilled most likely to think better of themselves) and into believing we know more about the world than is justified (such as the time and expense involved in a planned project). The illusion of cause allows us to find the patterns in randomness that account for conspiracy theories and the discovery of religious images in sandwiches. Finally, we think we have enormous untapped mental ability that can be released with simple techniques, such as listening to the music of Mozart (the illusion of potential). The authors suggest that these illusions “might be so persistent and pervasive in our thought patterns precisely because they lead us to think better of ourselves than we objectively should.” Be aware of these habits of mind, they write, and you can avoid being misled.

Bound to have wide popular appeal.

Pub Date: May 18, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-45965-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...


Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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