A highly readable combination of significant topic, deep reporting, endlessly fascinating anecdotes, and vivid writing.

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MERCHANTS OF TRUTH

THE BUSINESS OF NEWS AND THE FIGHT FOR FACTS

The former executive editor of the New York Times examines how and why American journalism has changed drastically in the past decade and what those changes mean for an informed citizenry.

Better than many in her business, Abramson (The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout, 2011, etc.) understands the roiling craft of journalism from the inside. Refreshingly, she writes candidly about her own complicated role in the tsunami of change washing over the industry. In 1979, prominent journalist David Halberstam published The Powers That Be, which looked at a then-turning point in American news media, specifically as related to the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, CBS News, and Time Inc. Abramson notes that Halberstam’s book influenced her to choose journalism as a career, and now she has adopted Halberstam’s structure to drive her latest work. To illuminate the current big picture, the author focuses on four news outlets: the New York Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vice Media. She examines these contemporary news organizations at three different intervals since the financial meltdown of 2008, and the fifth presence looming over the narrative is Facebook—and its billions of users. As Abramson delves into the Washington Post, one of the surprising positive elements (in a sea of negatives) is the ownership of Jeff Bezos, whose substantial cash infusions have brought growth, quality, and hope to the newsroom. Regarding her beloved New York Times, Abramson offers a cautionary tale, but she understands that the newspaper, in print and online, still sets the standard of quality in many ways. As for BuzzFeed’s transformation from a lighthearted digital playground to a serious news presence, the author seems impressed. Vice, on the other hand, comes in for harsher treatment, mostly due to founder Shane Smith’s refusal to truly understand news and his oversight of a misogynistic culture. The author also deftly weaves in important information about Breitbart, the Drudge Report, and other relevant outlets.

A highly readable combination of significant topic, deep reporting, endlessly fascinating anecdotes, and vivid writing.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2320-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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