Caveat lector: the authors, both intellectual heavyweights, focus much more on psychology—and group psychology, where...

THE GOOD STORY

EXCHANGES ON TRUTH, FICTION AND PSYCHOTHERAPY

A discussion between the Nobel Prize–winning novelist and a clinical psychologist on the narratives that their work shares.

Fans of Coetzee (The Childhood of Jesus, 2013, etc.) should be aware that his role here is more of interlocutor and provocateur and that the emphasis throughout is on psychoanalysis, with literature explored only as a means of understanding the goals and limits of therapy. “By profession I have been a trader in fictions,” writes the man of literature. “From what I write it must be evident to you that I don’t have much respect for reality. I think of myself as using rather than reflecting reality in my fiction.” He also thinks that those who spin personal narratives in therapy are also engaged in a sort of fiction and that their efficacy lies in not how true they are but in how helpful and functional, allowing the patient to engage with the world. Kurtz seems more willing to accept a provisional sort of truth or even an objective reality, though she counters, “I am not a philosopher, I am a psychologist, and fretting about the exact nature of the Truth with a capital T is not going to meet the situation that faces me, which is that of a human being, usually in great distress and confusion, wanting sympathy and understanding.” For those more interested in literary insight, Coetzee draws a parallel between “living reading,” which he calls a “mysterious affair,” and the challenge of therapy. “It involves finding one’s way into a voice that speaks from the page, the voice of the Other, and inhabiting that voice, so that you speak to yourself (your self) from outside yourself.” The explorations of narrative are frequently insightful, but the book is less like dialogue and more like an exchange of essays.

Caveat lector: the authors, both intellectual heavyweights, focus much more on psychology—and group psychology, where Coetzee keeps pushing the discussion—than on literature.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42951-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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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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