SEX, MURDER, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

A PSYCHOLOGIST INVESTIGATES HOW EVOLUTION, COGNITION, AND COMPLEXITY ARE REVOLUTIONIZING OUR VIEW OF HUMAN NATURE

An evolutionary psychologist with a flair for expressing his ideas in down-to-earth language seeks to integrate evolutionary psychology and cognitive science to explain what makes human beings tick.

Kenrick (Psychology/Arizona State Univ.) asserts that taking an evolutionary perspective clarifies human behavior and has major implications for disciplines such as law, political science, business, education and medicine. His opening chapters focus on research conducted by him and his colleagues on simple, selfish biases to answer questions about sex, aggression and prejudice. He proposes that each person has an assortment of subselves for dealing with different situations—e.g., coping with danger, finding romance, gaining status—and that these subselves are awakened at different stages of life and have a powerful effect on mental processes. What may stir the most controversy is Kenrick’s reconstruction of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Kenrick’s revision replaces self-actualization, which Maslow put at the top of his pyramid, with mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting, and he overlaps the goals to indicate that while higher ones develop later, they do not replace lower ones. The author then examines how higher aspirations of Maslow’s self-actualization need, such as creativity, spirituality and religion, are connected to the same evolutionary mechanisms as sex and aggression. Finally, he looks at how the insights of dynamical-systems theory combine with those of evolutionary psychology to produce a better understanding of patterns of social life and of how our human nature is linked to such large-scale phenomena as culture, religion and economics. Kenrick’s gift for speaking directly to the reader and making the abstract concrete through humor and homely examples make this an accessible and engaging exploration of how human behavior is connected to the behavior of our primitive ancestors.  

 

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-465-02044-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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