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An entertaining book of popular psychology.

Time editor at large Kluger (The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us, 2011, etc.) reveals recent scientific findings and age-old chestnuts about every possible breed of narcissist.

As the author notes at the beginning of this survey, the behavior was already prevalent long before Narcissus looked into the pond. The narrative is a mix of clinical observations and everyday anecdotes that will be familiar to most readers. Narcissists are everywhere, he writes, from Donald Trump to the date who keeps looking over your shoulder. They exhibit excessive self-admiration and egotism, as well as a medieval sense of noble entitlement. Kluger suggests that by the age of 8, we begin to discern these traits, avoiding them in ourselves and cringing when we see them in others. Although studies have shown that only 1 percent of the general population suffers clinical narcissistic personality disorder, that “is not a stand-alone condition. It’s part of the suite of ten personality disorders, which also include paranoid, borderline, histrionic, antisocial, dependent, avoidant, rigid, schizoid, and schizotypal personalities.” Many of these smug, empathy-challenged individuals suffer from a significant lack of self-esteem, and they are often the recipients of too much praise and too little love, so validated in everything they do that they are shocked when the praise doesn’t keep rolling in like waves. Kluger also examines the role of heredity, and he covers a wide swath of psychological terrain, throwing us food for thought like Lyndon Johnson’s exhibitionism; the grievance and grandiosity of Columbine murderers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris; and the prevalence of narcissism within organized sports, which “ably captures the deep feelings, kabuki rituals and utter pointlessness of tribal competition.” The author is nothing if not balanced as he introduces competing theories and allows them full opportunity to speak.

An entertaining book of popular psychology.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59448-636-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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 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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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