A provocative critique of the power of positive thinking and a solid addition to the behavioral-economics shelf.

READ REVIEW

RISK INTELLIGENCE

HOW TO LIVE WITH UNCERTAINTY

Risk analyst and popular-science writer Evans (Placebo: Mind Over Matter in Modern Medicine, 2004, etc.) analyzes the fallacy of the quest for certainty in making decisions.

[“M]ost of us simply aren't comfortable with or adept in making judgments in the netherland of uncertainty,” writes the author. We tend to over-react when it comes to assessing uncertainty and ambiguity and when we are faced with daunting challenges. Evans attributes this unwillingness to deal with uncertainty to “our reluctance to gauge the limits of what we know” and make judgments accordingly. Our comfort zone is located at either extreme of the spectrum: overconfidence or the expectation of doom. While the cost of over-optimism has been showcased by the recent financial crisis, we may suffer losses from missed opportunities when we refuse to accept a reasonable amount of risk. Though some of our difficulty in dealing with risk can be attributed to the tendency of our brain to overestimate dramatic events and indulge in wishful thinking, as well as our susceptibility to after-the-fact confirmation bias, these tendencies can be overcome. Evans looks at the improvement in weather forecasting in the past 50 years as a case in point. He suggests that one way to raise our risk intelligence is to carefully assess the limits of what we know, assess the reliability of sources, critically evaluate the accuracy of our estimates and learn the rudiments of probability theory. Financial speculation has become a dirty word, he writes, but in many circumstances it is valuable to make an educated guess.

A provocative critique of the power of positive thinking and a solid addition to the behavioral-economics shelf.

Pub Date: April 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1090-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more