Applied scholarship in the best interdisciplinary tradition, examining how hysteria, the individual somaticization of anxiety, devolves to the ``hystories,'' or cultural narratives, of the title and how they in turn escalate into psychogenic epidemics. Feminist literary critic and medical historian Showalter (Humanities/Princeton Univ.) identifies six contemporary syndromes as hysterical epidemics, which arise when influential professional gurus impact on vulnerable populations in culturally supportive environments. Showalter modifies her own endorsement (The Female Malady, 1985) of feminist therapy/therapeutic feminism as she attacks the credulousness of ``the feminist embrace of all abuse narratives and the treatment of all women as survivors.'' But psychotherapy is, Showalter claims, part of the solution to the problem that she expands on fluently in the idioms of psychoanalysis, feminism, and literature. When she moves to address chronic fatigue and Gulf War syndromes (rather too absolutely) as psychological in origin, her zeal biases her rhetorical and reportorial judgment; however, on the overlapping hystories of recovered memory, multiple personality disorder, satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction, the advocates convict themselves—of fascination with conspiracy, of accommodating to guilt and fear by licensing the projecting of blame onto others, and above all of resolute obliviousness to ``the way . . . suggestion worked to produce confabulation.'' Showalter has fun with the compound- bizarre, e.g., Harvard psychiatrist John Mack's speculation that remembered sexual abuse actually screens repressed episodes of alien abduction. But she honors the ``spiritual resonance'' lodged even in the narratives she makes sport of: Her quarrel is not with the symptoms of hysteria; she affirms the they are no less real (and no less treatable) than those of organic diseases. It is with the ``social appropriations'' of hysteria (such as the ramifications of incest accusations based on ``recovered'' memory) that she takes issue, and in defense of emotional mystery and narrative truth that she risks the wrath of the epidemics' suffering proponents by challenging them. Muscular, probably inflammatory, and elegantly expressed.

Pub Date: April 3, 1997

ISBN: 0-231-10458-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997



Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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