NATHANIEL'S NUTMEG

OR, THE TRUE AND INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF THE SPICE TRADER WHO CHANGED THE COURSE OF HISTORY

Milton (The Riddle and the Knight, not reviewed) deftly and arrestingly captures the sorry history of the European lust for nutmeg and its devastating impact on the Spice Islands. Spices from the Orient were already costly curiosities when 16th-century European pharmacists bestowed upon nutmeg a truly marvelous property: It could cure the plague, they said (and dysentery and sexual torpor and a host of other ailments). As most European cities were disease-ridden pest holes at the time, the value of the rare spice took off like a prairie fire. So started the Spice Wars, a series of squalid, brutal engagements between the English, Dutch, and Portuguese, played out on the small Pacific islands now known as the Moluccas, and recounted here by Milton with beguiling fluidity. Milton traces European involvement with the Spice Islands from the time they were merely an exquisite rumor peddled by spice traders from Constantinople through to the surrender of New Amsterdam to the English in return for the latter’s quitting the tiny nutmeg island of Run, said island defended by the eponymous Nathaniel Courthope, who with a handful of stalwarts, repelled much larger forces of invasion. Along the way, Milton unfurls more treachery and deceit, acts of political subterfuge and chicanery, displays of cruelty and mortification (along with an occasional show of courage and decency, though “the voice of conscience is never loud— in 16th-century mariners, notes the author) than you could squeeze into a pulp thriller. It’s a classic portrait of colonial barbarity that results in the eradication of an entire native population and then ends in a whimper: The British transplanted the trees to colonial Bencoolen and Singapore and Ceylon, and, oh yes, nutmeg didn’t cure the plague either. Milton is a storyteller of the first rank, with a knack for quick character sketches, an eye for what is important and what is dross, and a refreshing sense of humor, even amid the smoke and ruin he so well describes.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-21936-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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