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 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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