Of some interest to budding artists, filmmakers and the like, but not particularly useful at that.




What brings on an idea? How does an artist make art, a designer a sketch, a writer a sentence? You won’t find out in these brief profiles from Studio 360, though the book is not entirely without merit.

Host Burstein’s book bears an unfortunate subtitle that promises what it does not deliver, for which see, most recently, Steven Johnson’s excellent Where Good Ideas Come From (2010). Instead, the book gathers what might be thought of as show notes, bits and pieces of what can sometimes seem a free-form exercise—for, as Burstein allows, the show ranges from talking with “Nora Ephron about cooking, and with Susan Sontag about war; with Rosanne Cash about creative children of famous parents and with Simon Schama about the way maps help us understand the world.” The roster of talent is huge, and some of the pieces are appropriately memorable, as when the artist Chuck Close, now confined to a wheelchair, recounts his adventures experimenting with the perspectival grid in order to upend the brain’s expectations, and when sound designer Ben Burtt discusses doing much the same with “tones and beeps and whistles and static,” the stuff that populates the soundscapes of Star Wars and WALL-E. Alexander Payne, the director of such offbeat fare as About Schmidt and Election, discusses the freedom brought about by shooting a Hollywood movie on familiar turf—in his case, Omaha. Photographer David Plowden recalls an early encounter with the Great Plains, where, he discovered, “[t]here was nothing to hold on to.” Unfortunately, too many of the pieces are merely anecdotal snippets a couple of pages long, without development, connection. or follow-up. We learn nothing from actor Kevin Bacon’s revelation that as a child he was encouraged to make model houses out of Elmer’s glue and matchsticks, or from the aforementioned Ms. Cash’s recollections of her father’s (Johnny, that is) encouragement, for the elaboration of which see the liner notes to her recent album The List or her outstanding memoir Composed (2010).

Of some interest to budding artists, filmmakers and the like, but not particularly useful at that.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-173231-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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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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