A SLENDER THREAD

REDISCOVERING HOPE AT THE HEART OF CRISIS

From Ackerman (Rarest of the Rare, 1995, etc.) come these graceful, canny reflections on her hours spent fielding calls at a suicide prevention center. During "the long corridors of night, when problems can take on monstrous proportions," Ackerman sits in an ordinary room taking all-but-ordinary calls. Her phonemates are people on the raggedy edge, with voices of rising panic, rage, frustration, distant loneliness, but possessed of a precarious, tenuous hope that prompts them to telephone. She isn't a therapist, she isn't there to "[pick] problems apart and [make] sense of their origins and patterns." She is there to search for equilibrium, to be a friend for the duration, to examine options, to find windows and doors in a tunnel. She explores the degree of desperation in a caller's voice (imminent danger of suicide? a depression that may slacken?), knowing that "we hope our callers will choose life, but they have the option and the right to choose death." Nonetheless, she'll alert the police and call for a phone trace if things spin out of control. Ackerman's voracious imagination and curiosity find her making forays into biochemistry and the artistic temperament, the weather and Walt Whitman, bicycling and skiing, bringing them all to bear on her shifts at the crisis center. And it is not surprising that, as a writer of luminous essays on natural history, she is able to convincingly free-associate between the emotional geography of animals (a group of squirrels she is studying for a project) and humans, and compare her telephone work to the long-distance communication of whales, wolves, and birds. One could do a lot worse than to find Ackerman at the end of the line when feeling those desperately slippery moments of despair, the rush into the unknown.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0679771336

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996

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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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