Excellent popular science in the service of fending off aging.

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SUCCESSFUL AGING

A NEUROSCIENTIST EXPLORES THE POWER AND POTENTIAL OF OUR LIVES

An enthusiastic review of old and new research into the means of extending life.

Neuroscientist Levitin (Emeritus, Psychology and Neuroscience/McGill Univ.; A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age, 2016) emphasizes “that it is the interactions of genes, culture, and opportunity that are the biggest determinants of the trajectory our lives take; how our brains will change; and whether or not we’ll be healthy, engaged, and happy throughout the lifespan.” He adds that since our years are divided into what he calls “healthspan” and “diseasespan,” we should aim to prolong the former. As background, he devotes more than half the text to a fine overview of brain function, human physiology, and psychology that supports his point. Good genes are necessary but not sufficient; upbringing and environment play an essential role, and both work best if one takes advantage of opportunities. Real science books have minuscule audiences compared with books that promise the secrets of perfect health; Levitin, a genuine scientist, aims to enjoy the best of both worlds. Some of his breathless prescriptions are old favorites—happy people live longer; eat mostly plants; have lots of friends; don’t retire—but he relies heavily on legitimate science, so readers will encounter life-extenders supported by studies (although not in humans) such as calorie restriction, metformin, and rapamycin, as well as long-in-the-tooth favorites like antioxidants and fish oil, which he advocates for while admitting that recent studies are not impressive. Warning against popular nonsense, the author nevertheless includes a generous selection of nutrients, lifestyles, and pharmaceuticals supported by little more than reasonable theories or obsessively health-conscious colleagues. Levitin seems to underestimate his skill as an educator, and he has written a lucid explanation of brain and body function. His longevity advice has plenty of competition, especially David Sinclair’s Lifespan, but this book’s breadth is impressive.

Excellent popular science in the service of fending off aging.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4418-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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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