UNCOMMON PEOPLE

RESISTANCE, REBELLION, AND JAZZ

A collection of occasional pieces, journal articles, and reviews by one of our great historians (The Age of Extremes, 1995, etc.), showing off his catholicity of interests. Hobsbawm’s recurring concern in this new volume (15 of the 26 essays are previously uncollected in book form) is the forgotten men and women—the poor, the working class—who would have slipped through the cracks of macro-history were it not for his own work and that of others who write “history from below.” Even his jazz criticism is informed by this impulse—jazz, he writes, is “one of the few developments in the major arts entirely rooted in the lives of poor people,” a premise that is debatable but not uninformed. The book falls neatly into sections: a series of essays on questions of English working-class history, another on peasantry and social banditry (a Hobsbawm specialty), reflections on recent history, most of it American; several jazz pieces; and a closing meditation on the Columbus quincentenary. An economic historian by training and persuasion, Hobsbawm is at his best when using a seemingly irrelevant detail to elucidate larger trends, as in an aside on the simultaneous rise of the cloth worker’s cap, the school tie, and the private golf club in Victorian England, signs of emerging class stratification. It is hard to imagine any other historian who could make such fruitful use of the class implications of the rise of the fish-and-chip shop from the increase of purchases of industrial fish fryers. As a jazz critic, Hobsbawm brings a similarly astute sense of the interrelationship of social and economic history; regrettably, his sense of the music itself is not nearly as artistic. A collection of Hobsbawm’s writing is always welcome, and this one unearths some buried gems.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56584-466-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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