Readers may squirm to learn the sheer silliness of so many of their fears. They will squirm again to realize that, despite...

THE SCIENCE OF FEAR

WHY WE FEAR THE THINGS WE SHOULDN’T--AND PUT OURSELVES IN GREATER DANGER

Entertaining, often jolting account of why trivial risks terrify us, even as we engage in wildly dangerous activities with hardly a qualm.

Horrified by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many Americans stopped flying. Because of this, an additional 1,500 died in auto accidents the following year; none died in plane crashes. Most Americans know flying is safer than driving. In fact, writes Ottawa Citizen contributor Gardner in this lively account of why humans fear the wrong things, if terrorists hijacked and crashed one plane a week in the United States, flying would still be far safer. Yet in the more than six years since 9/11 our leaders and the media continue to trumpet the horrors of domestic terrorism—total American deaths it’s caused since 2001: zero—while no presidential candidate would dare warn us off an activity that’s killed more than 200,000 during the same time period. Using examples from everyday life and elucidating with ingenious psychological studies, the author explains why utterly irrational fears come naturally. He strips our approach to frightening events into “head” (reason) and “gut” (emotion), making it clear that gut rules and gut is immune to facts, statistics and common sense. Studies show that gut loves the illusion of control: Drivers of cars rarely feel helpless; not so airline passengers. Familiarity soothes gut. It’s almost impossible to make Americans worry about mass killers like diabetes and obesity, but dramatic, extremely rare maladies like mad-cow disease, West Nile virus and Ebola and fill the media and make us nervous. Intensely patriotic, gut turns up its nose at foreign fears. Americans chuckle at the European panic over genetically engineered food, while Europeans scratch their heads at the American obsession with the dangers of nuclear power.

Readers may squirm to learn the sheer silliness of so many of their fears. They will squirm again to realize that, despite this knowledge, those fears will persist.

Pub Date: July 17, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-525-95062-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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