An important examination of dismaying social and cultural trends.

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THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND

HOW GOOD INTENTIONS AND BAD IDEAS ARE SETTING UP A GENERATION FOR FAILURE

Overprotecting children hinders them from confronting physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges.

Noting a rise of anxiety and depression among teenagers and threats to free speech on many college campuses, Lukianoff (Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, 2012), an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and social psychologist Haidt (Ethical Leadership/New York Univ.; The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012, etc.) offer an incisive analysis of the causes of these problems and a measured prescription for change. The authors assert that many parents, teachers, professors, and university administrators have been teaching young people to see themselves as fragile and in need of protection: “to exaggerate danger” (even from words), “amplify their first emotional responses,” and see the world as a battle between good and evil. Particularly regrettable is “the creep of the word ‘unsafe’ to encompass ‘uncomfortable,’ ” as students seek to institute trigger warnings on course curricula and to lobby for “safe spaces” where they feel sheltered from ideas they deem emotionally or intellectually difficult to confront. “We teach children to monitor themselves for the degree to which they feel ‘unsafe’ and then talk about how unsafe they feel,” the authors write, and to interpret unpleasant emotions as dangerous. The authors present detailed accounts of the “meltdown into anarchy” on college campuses when “political diversity is reduced to very low levels, when the school’s leadership is weak and easily intimidated,” and when professors and administrators fail to uphold free speech and academic freedom. “Many professors,” write the authors, “say they now teach and speak more cautiously, because one slip or one simple misunderstanding could lead to vilification and even threats from any number of sources.” Social media outlets have inflamed these attacks. The authors offer practical suggestions for parents (allow children independence and nurture self-reliance) and teachers (cultivate intellectual virtues and teach debate skills) to guide children into adulthood.

An important examination of dismaying social and cultural trends.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2489-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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...

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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