An insightful yet plodding critique of faddish trends.

THE QUICK FIX

WHY FAD PSYCHOLOGY CAN'T CURE OUR SOCIAL ILLS

A journalist questions the shoddy research and pseudoscientific claims of “popular behavioral science.”

With their promises of improving individuals’ lives, recent thought leaders hyping quick-fix behavioral science concepts have gained undeserved recognition. Even though their findings are misleading, writes New York magazine contributing writer Singal, they are still “frequently being adopted by schools, corporations, and nonprofits eager to embrace the Next Big Thing to come out of the labs and lecture halls of Harvard or the University of Pennsylvania.” Sadly, “this replication crisis has cast a giant shadow over the entire field of psychology.” In his debut book, the author explores a variety of relevant topics: the positive thinking and self-esteem craze that took root with The Power of Positive Thinking, I’m OK—You’re OK, and other similar books, which explored “the principle that people have deep psychic wounds that need to be addressed before they can fully actualize themselves”; Princeton political scientist John DiIulio’s faulty theory of “superpredators,” which suggested that certain juvenile criminals (most often young Black teens) are impulsively and remorselessly willing to commit violent crimes; what body language and posture can reveal about assertiveness and how “power posing” can elevate external and internal signals of confidence. Though Singal’s broad-reaching exposé is well documented, the less-than-compelling narrative fails to convey the significance of the issues. The author builds his often pedantic arguments on long stretches of accumulated research findings, citing seemingly every applicable study (more rigorous editing would have helped). Singal rightly points out the virtues of Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All (2018). However, whereas that book was a masterful takedown of the philanthropic elite that showcased the author’s sharp storytelling skills, this book lacks a similarly engaging voice. The result is a well-researched but long-winded exercise.

An insightful yet plodding critique of faddish trends.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-23980-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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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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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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