A balanced, informative review of a controversial subject.



Marchant (The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy, 2013 etc.) explores how traditional and alternative medicine overlap.

As a science journalist and former editor at New Scientist, the author is uncompromising in her commitment to the scientific method and the necessity of rigorous trials to determine the efficacy of medical treatment. In answer to the question of whether “by harnessing the power of the mind, alternative treatments can offer something that conventional medicine has missed,” she finds the role of the mind to be central to both. A significant element related to this question is the placebo effect. When new therapies are being tested, subjects are divided into two groups, only one of which is given the treatment. “To avoid individual biases when testing new therapies, neither doctors nor patients know what treatment is being given,” writes the author. “The results are analyzed using rigorous statistical techniques” in order to eliminate the element of suggestibility from the results. Marchant turns this idea on its head. Her aim is to explore curative effects of placebos themselves as a clue to the relationship between the brain and the body's immune system. Despite the fact that placebo effects are subjective, they are “underpinned by measurable, physical changes in the brain and body.” This relationship is especially relevant to the treatment of autoimmune diseases, problems that may arise with organ transplants, and the nature of controversial diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome. It also offers clues to understanding why nontraditional medical treatments may prove effective. Marchant explores a number of nontraditional therapies such as the use of hypnosis, visualization, and mindfulness meditation to deal with chronic pain and stress-related diseases. However, she is not optimistic that a revolution of medicine is in the offing—drug companies are too influential in shaping research—despite the promise of these approaches in dealing with medical and psychological issues.

A balanced, informative review of a controversial subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-34815-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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 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...


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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