A convincing case that information alone—provided that it’s easy for shoppers to access—can spur an ecological revolution.



Radical transparency about a product’s origin, manufacture and distribution is the key to green consumerism.

So argues New York Times science reporter Goleman (Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, 2007, etc.). Today’s shoppers are bombarded by “greenwashing,” he writes. The decision to buy a certain product—an organic apple, for example—is often based on a single eco-friendly aspect and ignorant of the other factors associated with the apple’s growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping. Because every link in the supply chain affects every other, Goleman notes, only true transparency about a product’s journey to the shelf can lead consumers to change their shopping habits in ways that will have positive effects on the environment, their health and global business practices. Recent polls have shown that people are willing to pay a premium for merchandise they know is free of toxic chemicals or wasn’t manufactured using child labor. Several prototype systems compile the results of comprehensive research into a simple product-rating system. Armed with this information, shoppers will be able to choose the items that are most eco-friendly and thus help dictate how companies run their businesses. As an example of such a consumer-driven change, the author offers the recent nationwide removal of trans fats from foods, prompted by customer demand. Such ongoing shifts in shopping habits could force corporations across the world to re-evaluate the debate that “pits doing good against doing well,” which has historically driven executives to choose their bottom line over ecological responsibility. Over time, Goleman believes, reducing dependence on petroleum and cheap chemical additives will prove to be a profitable practice, which in turn will enable ecologically friendly products to sell at reasonable price points. Dramatic shifts like these reveal the latent “people power” of the free market, avers the author, backing up each argument with well-crafted field support from industrial ecologists, ecologically minded CEOs, toxicologists and other experts.

A convincing case that information alone—provided that it’s easy for shoppers to access—can spur an ecological revolution.

Pub Date: April 21, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-385-52782-8

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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