An engrossing standout in the thinking genre that will appeal to anyone who has ever been wrongheaded.



“Why do smart people act stupidly?”

In this welcome debut, British science writer Robson (New Scientist, BBC Future) examines the “flawed mental habits” of people with “greater intelligence, education, and professional expertise”—and how they can learn to “think more wisely.” Poor thinking emerges in unexpected places: Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of mastermind Sherlock Holmes, “fell for two teenagers’ scams.” Nobel laureates offer “dubious” ideas on public issues. NASA and FBI experts make disastrous mistakes. College graduates with high SAT scores often become “good technicians with no common sense,” according to a Cornell psychologist. “Not only do general intelligence and academic education fail to protect us from various cognitive errors; smart people may be even more vulnerable to certain kinds of foolish thinking,” writes Robson. They often fail to learn from their mistakes or seek advice and develop “bias blind spots.” Many fall into “the intelligence trap,” a term first used by psychologist Edward de Bono. Others have covered this ground, notably Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011). Drawing on their work as well as interviews with other scientists, Robson offers an unusually readable, wide-ranging survey of today’s best thinking on thinking, including an intriguing overview of the emerging science of “evidence-based wisdom,” which is generating practical strategies to improve decision-making in high-stakes situations. The author offers solid tips based on experiments by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago’s Center for Practical Wisdom and elsewhere, showing ways to reduce belief in pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and fake news. He notes that one useful method to accelerate this process is mindfulness meditation, which “trains people to listen to their body’s sensations and then reflect on them in a nonjudgmental way.” The idea is to foster intellectual humility, open-mindedness, and emotion regulation, all of which help us “take control of the mind’s powerful thinking engine, circumventing the pitfalls that typically afflict intelligent and educated people.”

An engrossing standout in the thinking genre that will appeal to anyone who has ever been wrongheaded.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-65142-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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