Informative and engaging, if not groundbreaking news to more cynical readers.




A revealing look at the fallibility of “experts,” and tips on how to glean facts from the mass of published misinformation.

Science and business journalist Freedman (Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines, 2000, etc.) begins with the assertion that, statistically, as many as two-thirds of all published studies may be wrong. Medicine, business, economics, social science—no matter the source, area of discipline or director, almost every study is subject to the same variety of factors that contribute to a high percentage of inaccuracy. These include lack of oversight, careless data entry and other forms of human error, as well as more corrupt factors like bias, pandering to a certain audience, manipulating data to achieve a desired outcome, suppressing mistakes to retain funding or earn tenure and industry influence. In addition, the media can distort information, as journals are more interested in publishing new and positive study results to move newsstand copies, and reporters are reluctant to fact-check scientists. The Internet exacerbates error by making information readily accessible, but not necessarily filtered by its reliability and the proliferation of “informal experts” online only blurs the line between fact and presumption. The result is an environment in which many studies get attention, making it difficult for the average information consumer to tell which studies are accurate and which aren’t—especially when many studies on the same topic contradict each other. More dangerously, Freedman points out that medical research, especially on prescription drugs, is based on animal testing that often produces misleading or outright harmful results. Even randomized controlled trials, considered to be the “gold standard” of clinical studies, often yield wrong information. So what can we believe? The author includes “simple never-fail rules for not being misled by experts,” “characteristics of expert advice we should ignore,” etc., to help guide readers toward right information. In good humor, he also includes an appendix detailing “the ways this entire book might be wrong.”

Informative and engaging, if not groundbreaking news to more cynical readers.

Pub Date: June 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-02378-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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 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...


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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