Moving, at times disturbing, and revealing—like having a productive, revelatory discussion with a trusted friend.

THE INCURABLE ROMANTIC

AND OTHER TALES OF MADNESS AND DESIRE

A veteran clinical psychologist in the U.K. recounts some of his cases involving those tormented by Cupid, Eros, and all the other love gods who meddle in our affairs.

In his latest, Tallis—who has published both novels (Mephisto Waltz, 2018, etc.) and works of nonfiction (Hidden Minds: A History of the Unconscious, 2012, etc.)—deals with an assortment of cases, ranging from a man devastated by a breakup to a pedophile to those suffering from unrequited love. Throughout, the author maintains an appealing self-deprecation. He regrets things he said (or didn’t say); he realizes he’s not being effective; he worries about the patients who left his care for various reasons. He also displays evidence of his wide reading, and not just in the literature of psychology. He alludes to such figures as Thomas Mann, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Agatha Christie. He also includes elements of his own biography: We learn about the breakup of his first marriage, his two sons (more than 20 years apart in age), and his education and experiences in a variety of clinical settings. But the patients’ stories remain prominent as Tallis explores the physiology and the psychology of human love. He discusses Darwinian aspects of it, and he chronicles his observation of a human brain (do slivers of memory remain?). Mostly, the author reveals how difficult it is for us to deal with imperfect love—i.e., with virtual types of love. Doubt, jealousy, depression, guilt, regret, ebullience—all course through the narrative. We also see how reluctant we can be even to talk about these emotions and experiences. Tallis’ patients—like the rest of us?—conceal and modify and even prevaricate as they tell their wrenching love stories.

Moving, at times disturbing, and revealing—like having a productive, revelatory discussion with a trusted friend.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-1755-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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