TOY WARS

THE EPIC STRUGGLE BETWEEN G.I. JOE, BARBIE, AND THE COMPANIES THAT MAKE THEM

Hours of fun for business-epic junkies of all ages. Miller, a writer at the Providence Journal-Bulletin (Coming of Age, 1995, etc.), has wisely chosen his subject: an industry dependent on quirky creativity as well as extensive market research and hype, but ultimately at the mercy of youngsters' whims. It's a case study in market domination by megaconglomerates, which in this case are given virtually free rein over young consciousnesses, reporting only to shareholders. Miller's five years of access to toy giant Hasbro pay off in a visibly well-informed narrative of that company's vicissitudes and its rivalry with Mattel. Although he does justice to the range of toy genres, Miller effectively uses the many lives of G.I. Joe to dramatize the history of Hasbro and the way it works. Most readers will sense early on what it takes Hasbro years and millions of dollars of research and failed promotion to discover- -that Joe's days were over because ``the flag had lost its power over kids.'' But what we witness is the stubborn devotion to a brand over the creation of new ideas, as Joe becomes a blank slate for every ham-fisted attempt to keep up with the likes of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, culminating in G.I. Joe Extreme. But Miller's presentation is flawed on a superficial but irritating level. Instead of letting the participants emerge for themselves through their words and actions, the novelist in Miller rigs characters out of them from the get-go, into which their words and actions are often tediously jammed. It's worst in the soft-focus tribute to Hasbro chairman Alan Hassenfeld. Miller only does him a disservice with a starry-eyed portrait that could have been written by Hassenfeld's own PR department. Still, it's worth brushing aside the formulaic dressing for the solid, detailed cross-section of the mass-culture machine that lies just beneath. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8129-2984-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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