An outstanding guide to nonsense for critical readers.



America is awash in lies, liars, and scams as well as books denouncing them, and this is among the best.

Simons, a professor of psychology, and Chabris, a cognitive scientist, are aware of the popularity of stories about scammers. In this collaboration, they deliver a steady stream of such tales in which the well known (Bernie Madoff, Elizabeth Holmes) barely scratch the surface. Mostly, scammers exploit habits that serve us well in daily life but make us easy prey. We believe what others tell us unless something seems fishy. We see what we expect to see. Without adequate critical thinking, it’s a formula for disaster. A respected psychology journal published a study in which subjects walking through dirty streets were more likely to think racist thoughts. Had the study—which turned out to be fake—reached the opposite conclusion, the editors might have paid more attention. We also tend to accept fascinating stories without question. Told that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are college dropouts who became billionaires and then asked if dropouts are more likely to strike it rich, most subjects answer yes. In fact, nearly all billionaires are college graduates. The authors promote Ronald Reagan’s dictum about negotiating with the Soviet Union: “Trust, but verify.” Readers will agree but also admit that we readily distrust statements that contradict our beliefs and accept without question information we agree with. The authors present a delightful parade of fakery in which scammers compete with equally dishonest entrepreneurs, scientists, journalists, and politicians, with special attention to the psychologists. As to the “What We Can Do About It” in the title, Simons and Chabris prescribe easy, common-sense rules, not-so-easy-to-implement but excellent advice on researching dubious claims, and repeated warnings to question our deeply held beliefs and distrust gut feelings.

An outstanding guide to nonsense for critical readers.

Pub Date: July 11, 2023

ISBN: 9781541602236

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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


“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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