Weirdly attention-grabbing. What Witold Rybczynski did for the screwdriver, Owen does for the photocopier. (Photos and...




New Yorker staff writer Owen (The Making of the Masters, 1999, etc.) fluidly recounts the story of the “most successful product ever marketed in America.”

That’s according to Forbes, but Owen’s lapidary prose is far more pleasurable than that magazine’s breathless pages. Whether he’s explaining the rudiments of home improvement (The Walls Around Us, 1991) or the evolution of the copying machine, he makes the unlikeliest suspects into appealing tales. The action this time centers on Chester Carlson, son of grinding poverty and the visionary behind the photocopier, a nonintuitive idea if there ever was one. Though Owen makes it clear that there were a good handful of individuals who lent critical insights to the project, Carlson’s perseverance was particularly remarkable. Time and again, his invention was on the brink of oblivion, time and again he managed to secure funding or find a niche that the machine (ever in the process of refinement) could fill to sustain the work in progress. Along the way, Owen rolls out the evolution of the copying process, starting with Sumerian scribes, moving through monks and machines—intaglio, lithography, the hectograph, pantograph, and polygraph (Thomas Jefferson thought this last, an early copier, was indispensable to democracy)—to the critical discoveries of aniline dyes and a sort of proto-carbon paper that helped lead to the first xerographic copy in 1938. But no one wanted to join the young company as a partner in manufacturing, and RCA tried to make an end run around Xerox patents, though it got nowhere. The photocopying process is not a simple thing to understand; photoelectricity, a building block of the copier, is so arcane, for instance, that “Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for having explained it in 1905.” To Owen’s abiding credit, he makes it all intelligible in this rich business history.

Weirdly attention-grabbing. What Witold Rybczynski did for the screwdriver, Owen does for the photocopier. (Photos and illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5117-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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