Here’s that rarity: a short, piquant anthology on a subject of (almost) universal interest. Chasman and Jhee, Beacon editors, bring together highly personal pieces by 21 contemporary American writers (e.g., Barbara Ehrenreich, David Mamet, Willie Morris) offering some terrifically wry and insightful observations about how difficult it is to make a success of marriage and domestic life, given our culture of careerist individualism. Invariably, some silly and superficial me-oriented things also get said, as by memoirist Louise DeSalvo: “I have come to see the impulse towards adultery as the self’s yearning to realize its latent potential.” But for the most part, the reflections here appear to be the fruit of considerable thought following much emotional wear-and-tear. For example, Vivian Gornick writes of the alternating joys and sorrows of living alone; several other contributors depict scenes of love and loss, whether through a partner’s infidelity, divorce, or death. The most moving piece, Mark Doty’s “An Exile’s Psalm,” concerns the author’s attempt both to mourn his long-time lover, who died of AIDS, and to exult in the unexpected joy of a new relationship. Many writers allude to adultery, potential or actual, liberating or tormented. Yet Chasman and Jhee have included not a single autobiographical essay on that most elusive and enviable feat, a relatively long and happy marriage; perhaps it was difficult to find a writer to describe such an experience. Still, the majority of men and women still feel they can defy the odds—why? Essayist Gerald Early replies, “Marriage, in its barbarous civility, in its impossible dependence and impossible expectation, assures one that in the vast meaninglessness of the world, one can . . . hope to find the true rudder of meaning, at last.” Whether there’s meaning to be found, or merely emotional coldness after a marital rift, love and marriage continue to fire the imagination, as this absorbing collection attests.

Pub Date: April 5, 1999

ISBN: 0-8070-6217-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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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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