THE LOGIC OF FAILURE

WHY THINGS GO WRONG AND WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE THEM RIGHT

A challenging, though preliminary, look at the difficulties of decision making, exploring how and why bad decisions are made. From Gîdel's incompleteness theorem to chaos and quantum theory, much of 20th-century thought has focused on underscoring the inextricable complexities of the universe and, thus, the inevitable inadequacies of knowledge. Now Dîrner (Psychology/Univ. of Bamberg). a winner of Germany's highest science prize, the Leibnitz Award, makes his own contribution to the study of complexity by demonstrating just how difficult and problematic decision making can be. Happily, his methodology is both elegant and revealing. He has constructed a series of computer simulations in which the test subject might take on the role of mayor of a small town or district commissioner in charge of an arid region in Africa. Carte blanche is given to the subject struggling to deal with problems arising from such matters as population, resources, unemployment, and crop yields. Some people fail spectacularly, and some do a pretty good job, and the reasons are nearly always the same and surprisingly simple, at least in the abstract: ``What matters is not, I think, development of exotic mental capabilities . . . There is only one thing that does in fact matter, and that is the development of our common sense.'' Dîrner adds that we must also learn to think in terms of time (both forwards and backwards) and the complex interrelationships within systems. Of course, models are always suspect because they tend to be reductive. But if Dîrner is right, the implications here are substantial, for he has created a basic blueprint for testing decision making skills and a broad model for improving them. The corporate types who quest perpetually after the latest management techniques will almost certainly seize upon Dîrner's work. But this is not so much a ``how-to'' guide as a provocative and important road map for years of future scientific experiment and investigation. (88 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: July 9, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-4160-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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