A sturdy, scientifically grounded, and anecdotally engaging study of the factors that shape us.

UNIQUE

THE NEW SCIENCE OF HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY

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

ISBN: 978-1-5416-9888-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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