There’s nothing earthshaking in Burnett’s observations, but he offers a pleasing tour of the brain and its feel-good...

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HAPPY BRAIN

WHERE HAPPINESS COMES FROM, AND WHY

Entertaining exploration of the neurophysiological basis for Aristotle’s most prized state of being: happiness.

To give a human a happy brain, give him or her lots of dopamine or some of the other chemicals we secrete in dosages far above what morphine can deliver. By the account of neuroscientist and stand-up comic Burnett (Medical Education/Cardiff Univ.; Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To, 2016, etc.), setting those natural endorphins into motion is the trick. The author sometimes tries too hard to unburden heavy scientific exposition with some gee-whiz efforts at lightheartedness. Still, he delivers meaty, even weighty observations on the gray-matter gymnastics that, for instance, make us fall in love with awful people and, to all appearances to the outside world, allow us to content ourselves with that choice by blinding us to the reality. Burnett’s description of the neurochemistry of love and its affiliated emotions (“it may not be as pleasurable as sex, but it’s a lot less effort too”) is worth the price of admission. So, too, is his depiction of the emotional workings of the adolescent and then, later, the aging brain, when the reward pathways mature in such a way that some of the things that formerly brought us pleasure seem quaint and silly—a process that we share with rats and other primates. Burnett is at his funniest when he is subtle: “older people voting en masse to recreate the quasi-fictional romanticised world of the past doesn’t really do much good for anyone (see ‘Brexit’).” The book is at its best when the author points to obvious conclusions without being too obvious about it: If what makes us happiest in the end is the approval of others, it’s plain to see, on that account, why those who are widely disapproved of are so miserable.

There’s nothing earthshaking in Burnett’s observations, but he offers a pleasing tour of the brain and its feel-good longings.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-65134-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION

The creator and host of the titular podcast recounts his lifelong struggles with depression.

With the increasing success of his podcast, Moe, a longtime radio personality and author whose books include The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton: A Parody (2015), was encouraged to open up further about his own battles with depression and delve deeper into characteristics of the disease itself. Moe writes about how he has struggled with depression throughout his life, and he recounts similar experiences from the various people he has interviewed in the past, many of whom are high-profile entertainers and writers—e.g. Dick Cavett and Andy Richter, novelist John Green. The narrative unfolds in a fairly linear fashion, and the author relates his family’s long history with depression and substance abuse. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers was a drug addict. Moe tracks how he came to recognize his own signs of depression while in middle school, as he experienced the travails of OCD and social anxiety. These early chapters alternate with brief thematic “According to THWoD” sections that expand on his experiences, providing relevant anecdotal stories from some of his podcast guests. In this early section of the book, the author sometimes rambles. Though his experiences as an adolescent are accessible, he provides too many long examples, overstating his message, and some of the humor feels forced. What may sound naturally breezy in his podcast interviews doesn’t always strike the same note on the written page. The narrative gains considerable momentum when Moe shifts into his adult years and the challenges of balancing family and career while also confronting the devastating loss of his brother from suicide. As he grieved, he writes, his depression caused him to experience “a salad of regret, anger, confusion, and horror.” Here, the author focuses more attention on the origins and evolution of his series, stories that prove compelling as well.

The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20928-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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