Readers interested in business and entrepreneurship, as well as outer space, will find Berger’s book irresistible.

LIFTOFF

ELON MUSK AND THE DESPERATE EARLY DAYS THAT LAUNCHED SPACEX

An up-close account of the otherworldly trajectory of tech magnate Elon Musk.

Ars Technica editor Berger opens with a telling scene set in South Texas in late September 2019, when Musk visited a factory building a rocket that one day will be bound for Mars. Sending that ship—and people—to the red planet is of a parcel with Musk’s pioneering work in “remaking the global aerospace industry,” which includes privatizing efforts that had long belonged to government agencies such as NASA—which, though funded to the tune of some $25 billion per year, still “remains several giant leaps away from sending a few astronauts to Mars.” Getting the SpaceX rocket safely to distant Mars “may not work,” Musk confessed before adding, “But it probably will.” By Berger’s swiftly moving account, it will, not just because Musk is an endlessly driven, intensely focused sort who could use a little more fun in life—at one point, Musk ruefully allows that “it wouldn’t have hurt to have just one cocktail on the damn beach” of a distant Pacific atoll used in test flights—but also because Musk is surrounded by brilliant scientists recruited from academia and industry who are thoroughly invested in the project’s success. “They want that golden ticket for the world’s greatest thrill ride,” Berger writes, evoking another obsessed genius, Willie Wonka. Musk now leads not just SpaceX, but also the Tesla electric automobile company as well as a neural technology company and a firm devoted to digging new transportation tunnels below overcrowded cities. Even so, he remains closely attentive to matters that aviation engineers have often overlooked, such as recycling rocket stages: “If an airline discarded a 747 jet after every transcontinental flight,” writes the author, “passengers would have to pay $1 million for a ticket."

Readers interested in business and entrepreneurship, as well as outer space, will find Berger’s book irresistible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297997-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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