A touch arid at times, but overall a fascinating, illuminating look at bunko and the social conditions under which its...

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FRAUD

AN AMERICAN HISTORY FROM BARNUM TO MADOFF

A broad-ranging study of the big swindle in American life over the last couple of centuries.

Americans, P.T. Barnum divined, have a deeply ingrained habit of needing “to cast suspicious eyes on what was before them”—but then “to be taken in regardless.” There is something in our character, something at once aspirational and gullible, that makes the nation so avid to embrace the likes of a Charles Ponzi, a Bernie Madoff, and any number of religious and political figures past and present. Balleisen (History and Public Policy/Duke Univ.; Navigating Failure: Bankruptcy and Commercial Society in Antebellum America, 2001, etc.) casts a gimlet eye on the passing parade of hucksters and charlatans, peppering a narrative long on theory with juicy asides that build toward a comprehensive catalog of “Old Swindles in New Jargon”—e.g., the ever popular pyramid scheme. That fundamentally undemocratic bit of fraud—I got mine, and it doesn’t matter whether you get yours—is built on an ethos of wishful thinking and anxiety alike, for Americans have always had the haunting fear of sliding backward into poverty. Ranging among the disciplines of history, economics, and psychology, Balleisen constructs a sturdy narrative of the many ways in which we have fallen prey to the swindler, and continue to do so, as well as of how American society and its institutions have tried to build protections against the con. But these protections eventually run up against accusations of violating “longstanding principles of due process,” since the bigger the con, the more lawyers arrayed behind it. It’s in looking at these regulatory mechanisms that the narrative sometimes bogs down in detail, but it all adds up to a useful, if perhaps accidental, operating manual to living in America, a land in which the great novelist Herman Melville pointedly followed up his vast novel Moby-Dick with the savagely satirical The Confidence-Man.

A touch arid at times, but overall a fascinating, illuminating look at bunko and the social conditions under which its practitioners operate—and flourish.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-16455-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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