HOW EMOTIONS WORK

A sociologist analyzes emotions by taking a close look at how anger, laughter, shame, and crying emerge and decline in everyday situations. Katz (sociology, UCLA) has selected what would seem to be fruitful situations for his exploration of emotions. His study of anger is based on some 150 detailed reports of adult drivers who were asked to recount their enraging experiences while driving in Los Angeles. To examine laughter, he uses an equally dramatic technique, videotaping 187 episodes of individuals and families in a fun house equipped with distorting mirrors. His work on shame draws largely on statements and videotapes of eight-year-old boys striking out in Little League baseball games and persons involved in white collar crime investigations, as well as on the extensive literature on shame. Crying is studied through two disparate situations, the persistent whining of a preschool child and the breakdown of a criminal being questioned by the police. However, the prose in which the research and analysis is couched is unfortunately clotted with the professional jargon of social psychology. Learning that emotions are “dialectical tensions between doing and being done by interactions with others,” that “the socioaesthetic properties of laughter appear to be a universal feature of socialized competence throughout Western civilization,” or that someone’s crying is a response to a crisis in “the corporeal authentication of his narration” is unlikely to enthrall the general reader curious about the phenomenon of road rage or wondering why tears may signal both great joy and great sadness—even when illustrative liine drawings and stills from the videotapes supplement the text, and excerpts of annotated tape transcriptions offer a glimpse of a sociological researcher’s extraordinarily detailed observations of subjects. While the title is appealing in its simplicity and directness, inside the cover this clarity quickly gives way to a dismaying density that will burden and frustrate readers outside the circle of social-psychological research.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-226-42599-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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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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