by David J. Linden ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 29, 2020
A sturdy, scientifically grounded, and anecdotally engaging study of the factors that shape us.
A professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine probes the individual traits that make us who we are.
Linden looks at how heredity interacts with experience and “the inherent randomness in the development of the body.” Although he notes that we have only a general understanding of how molecular mechanisms come together to make us individuals, he fearlessly delves into genetic factors, the experience-driven expression of genes, and the subtle changes in the number, position, biochemical activity, and movement of cells within the developing nervous system. The author picks apart those aspects that are biologically regulated and those that are the product of social experience—attachment, social warmth, neglect, and bullying—and describes how they affect brain development. There are a variety of sex manifestations that don’t always sort easily into male and female, and gender is even more variable. Linden provides lucid examinations of the range and dynamism of sexual expression. Regarding food preferences, the author writes, “we have succeeded by being food generalists. As a species, we can’t be overly predetermined when it comes to food. We must adapt to local availability through learning.” However, there is clear evidence of genetic variation in taste sensors as well as life-stage influences on taste sensation. After a foray into gene expression and how it addresses some particular challenge—e.g., high-altitude living “in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia or the high Tibetan plateau”—Linden moves on to the contentious role of population genetics, systematically refuting pseudo-scientific racist arguments. The author untangles the cultural, biological, and socio-economic factors at play, the fallacy of selective pressures, the fluidity of racial populations, heritable and nonheritable components, and the crystallized and malleable elements of intelligence. Ultimately, the author concludes, “interacting forces of heredity, experience, plasticity, and development resonate to make us unique.”A sturdy, scientifically grounded, and anecdotally engaging study of the factors that shape us.
Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Basic Books
Review Posted Online: June 11, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020
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by Walter Isaacson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.
To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 688
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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by Robert Greene ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1998
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
Page Count: 430
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998
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