A genial, occasionally glib guide to both the positive and negative effects of self-delusion.

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KIDDING OURSELVES

THE HIDDEN POWER OF SELF-DECEPTION

A breezy, anecdotal survey of self-deception and how it is not merely inevitable, but helpful and even essential.

Former Wall Street Journal writer Hallinan (Why We Make Mistakes, 2009) works in territory similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s: giving fresh twists to familiar assumptions, showing that conventional wisdom can be more conventional than wise. Journalists call this a “conceptual scoop,” when a writer isn’t the first to report facts but the first to provide (or popularize) a different framing or interpretation that challenges what most people think they know. In this case, the author begins with the inarguable premise that what we believe, experience and anticipate is dependent upon how we perceive things and that we often perceive things less the way they are than how we want them to be. However, plenty of good can result from our penchant for deluding ourselves, feeling more optimistic than the situation warrants and believing we have more control than in fact we do. “Seeing things accurately, by which we mean seeing things ‘as they are,’ is not always a plus,” writes Hallinan. “Sometimes it’s a hindrance, and this is especially true when things are really bleak. There is, for instance, a strong connection between depression and realism. Decades of research suggest that if you want a realistic assessment of things, ask someone who is depressed.” Looking on the bright side not only makes us happier (if deluded), but also more productive, and it can even have predictive effects on outcome (the self-fulfilling prophecy). Hallinan’s survey ranges all over the map, rarely stopping anywhere for more than a couple of paragraphs or pages, as he fits nearly everything under a big umbrella, from a variety of urban myths (and mass delusions) to the effectiveness of placebos to the refusal of some conservatives to admit that Barack Obama is not a foreign-born Muslim.

A genial, occasionally glib guide to both the positive and negative effects of self-delusion.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-34868-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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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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