PRIVATE MATTERS

IN DEFENSE OF THE PERSONAL LIFE

Lucid historical, literary, psychoanalytic, and (occasionally) personal perspectives on the vexing topic of privacy. In Smith's view, privacy—whether as solitude, anonymity, reserve, or intimacy—both strengthens public life and invites its own violation. As the daughter of the famous (and famously reserved) writer Bernard Malamud, she sought anonymity in the unliterary profession of psychotherapy, building up plenty of personal insights from both experiences. Now her intelligent book analyzes some famous collisions between the public and the private in Western life. Her best example is the tawdry newspaper-media frenzy over the adultery trial in 1875 of the ``gospel of love'' preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. The event inspired a groundbreaking Harvard Law Review article in 1890 on the right to privacy, which criticized the media for violating that right. Smith spends a chapter on the relationship between literary estates and biography, using as her prime illustration the ultra-reticent Henry James and his highly pertinent novella The Aspern Papers. James himself, despite his efforts to destroy all materials regarding his personal life, became the subject of a probing five-volume biography. (After her father's death, Smith and her mother had to decide how much of Malamud's literary estate to make available to researchers, a matter she touches on in her prologue.) Her most moving case history is the narrative of ex-slave Harriet Jacobs, whose bondage precluded a private life until her escape. More contemporary topics include the pros and cons of Oprah's ``psychic muckraking'' and Clinton's need to expose himself, selectively, to his electorate. Through the examples of Clinton, Henry James, and Henry Ward Beecher, among others, Smith intelligently outlines privacy's ticklish significance. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-201-40973-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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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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