Abundant food for thought for professionals of all types as well as students of decision science and behavioral economics.

NOISE

A FLAW IN HUMAN JUDGMENT

A sprawling study of errors in decision-making, some literal matters of life and death.

You go to a doctor complaining of chest pains. The doctor orders an angiogram. The hospital requires a second opinion before authorizing surgery, and the second doctor disagrees on the extent to which a specific blood vessel is blocked. These unpredictable disagreements over the same data are what Kahneman, Sibony, and Sunstein call “noise,” a species of human error that happens whenever such higher-order judgments are involved. Noise, they write, is rampant in medicine, where “different doctors make different judgments about whether patients have skin cancer, breast cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia, depression, and a host of other conditions.” Noise is especially prevalent in psychiatry, they add, where subjective opinion is more pronounced than in other disciplines. A cousin of bias, noise is difficult to isolate and correct. In forensic science, the authors write, noise is implicated in nearly half of all misidentifications of perpetrators and wrongful imprisonments. Unlike some categories of error, noise is often not helped by the introduction of more information. Writing in often dense but generally nontechnical prose, the authors offer strategies for reducing noise. One is to average out predictions in, say, stock market performance, since “noise is inherently statistical.” Another is to consult the smartest people you can find; while they may not be flawless, “picking those with highest mental ability makes a lot of sense.” Since error combines with snap decisions, the authors endorse rigorous review and other strategies for noise reduction and “decision hygiene” as well as developing habits of mind that acknowledge both bias and error and favor examining the opinions of those with whom one disagrees as dispassionately and fairly as possible. “To improve the quality of our judgments,” they urge, “we need to overcome noise as well as bias.”

Abundant food for thought for professionals of all types as well as students of decision science and behavioral economics.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-45140-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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