A timely and thorough investigation of a cultural plague.

Historical investigation of how the hatred of others blights society.

Makari, a psychiatrist whose previous books probed the concept of mind and the origins of psychoanalysis, now turns to the vexed notion of xenophobia, “a word filled with sea-tossed exiles, dreams of welcome, and the flashing specter of violence.” Tied to debates over “nationalism, globalization, race, and immigration,” in 2016, with the ascent of Trump and his followers, an online dictionary cited xenophobia as the word of the year. Makari acknowledges that fear of strangers may be an innate response to encountering anyone outside of one’s familiar group, although some evolutionary biologists argue that such a response would have prevented smaller bands of humans from merging to create diverse, cooperative societies. In this illuminating, significant historical study, the author focuses less on its origins than on when the concept was labeled “phobic”—that is, when it became widely condemned. He examines xenophobic behavior in 15th-century Spain, when the Catholic monarchs expelled Muslims and Jews; in European expansion into the Americas, when Native peoples were killed or enslaved; as central to the eugenics movement in the 19th century; during the influx of immigration in the early 20th century; and in the perpetration of genocides later in the century and into the next. After 1945, the term became taboo, but even earlier, Makari found, it caused disquiet. In 1923, the New York Times called xenophobia “a disease more dangerous to a free people than a physical plague.” Influential journalist Walter Lippmann noted that xenophobia was inherent in stereotypes, “commonly held distortions of ethnic and national kinds.” Makari sees xenophobia erupting in the U.S. and across Europe, which “economic competition and cultural invasion” are unable to explain. The grandson and child of immigrants, the author is not a detached academic. He clearly demonstrates his emotional connection to the material: How extreme will xenophobia become, and “who will stand to oppose it?”

A timely and thorough investigation of a cultural plague.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-65200-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021



Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.

By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780063204935

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023


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

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