Not turgid enough for academia or lucid enough to be quality popular science, the book is a dense, detailed, often...

ANXIOUS

USING THE BRAIN TO UNDERSTAND AND TREAT FEAR AND ANXIETY

This is no self-help book but rather a rigorous scientific analysis of brain function, heavy on research and theory.

LeDoux (Neuroscience/New York Univ.; The Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are, 2002, etc.), who directs the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute, explains that anxiety is fear in the absence of obvious danger. Modern humans face few deadly perils but “more than make up for their absence with our brain’s capacity to anticipate threats including some that may never happen.” The author stresses that fear is the end product of brain structures that generate no feelings by themselves but detect danger and orchestrate defensive responses that ensure the organism’s survival. Technical advances have given neuroscientists precise tools to investigate these structures, and psychologists have been active in the process as well. The result is a torrent of findings from neuroscientific laboratories that often conflict with psychological theories. LeDoux recounts them in often painful detail and tries, sometimes successfully, to reconcile them. In the final chapters, the author claims to offer new ways to cope. He mentions experimental, mind-altering drugs and describes how various brain structures respond to psychotherapy, and he seems particularly intrigued by the benefits of meditation. However, LeDoux is a scientist (more than 100 pages of notes and bibliography attest to his research), not a media celebrity à la Drs. Phil, Oz, and Weil, so sufferers will find no cheerful advice on banishing worry but plenty of sensible if discouraging qualifiers: “additional research will be necessary,” “not all studies have found this effect,” “this has a promising potential….”

Not turgid enough for academia or lucid enough to be quality popular science, the book is a dense, detailed, often stimulating review of how the brain processes external threats.

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01533-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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