HOLY SMOKE

An engaging classic about a ``burning passion''—cigar smoking—is available here more than a decade after its original UK issue. It is passionate, indeed. This rich and juicy book by Cabrera Infante (Infante's Inferno, 1984; Mea Cuba, 1994; etc.) makes the current crop of coffee table books on the subject seem like mere ephemera. The author was born in Cuba, where Columbus first witnessed the ur- cigar being enjoyed by the locals. The brave admiral (in a fit of early political correctness) didn't partake, but a colleague did, and the stink of the stogey soon spread 'round the world. Cabrera Infante is quick on the draw, tracing the history of the habit in a playful, relaxed narrative. He discursively discourses on the growing of the leaf and the manufacture and various forms of what was first described as a ``horizontal chimney.'' Fillers, binders, and wrappers, shapes and shops, mores and manners, true Havanas, cigarettes, pipes, snuff, and ash are all covered in the pun- encrusted, addictive text. Smoked out, too, is every movie reference to the tobacco habit, with fulsome, funny references to performers from W.C. Fields to Wallace Ford, Groucho Marx (of course) to Percy Kilbride. The movie allusions give way to literary allusions with a miscellany that includes Hammett's Continental Op, the great Myles na gCopaleen, Baron Corvo, Sherlock Holmes (of course) and (of course) Kipling. Written in the days when Castro still smoked and Orson Welles still walked among us, this text refers to a Davidoff as ``the most expensive cigar in the world . . . around ten dollars each.'' Alas, even that awful price has been far surpassed in recent years. But no matter. Cabrera Infante's pyrotechnics have not yet been equaled. Take a leaf from this book and have some robusto fun.

Pub Date: June 12, 1997

ISBN: 0-87951-765-4

Page Count: 329

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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