While the author raises more questions than she answers, and some readers may be put off by her less-than-straightforward...

ANESTHESIA

THE GIFT OF OBLIVION AND THE MYSTERY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Melbourne-based journalist and novelist Cole-Adams (Walking to the Moon, 2008) blends research, reflection, and memoir to try to grapple with the meaning of consciousness.

When someone is anesthetized for an operation, they are usually told that they will be “going to sleep.” What actually happens is much more complex, and not even anesthesiologists can agree on or fully explain what happens under anesthesia. In her first work of nonfiction, the author seeks to uncover some of the ethical implications of this procedure, such as the potential impact of words by doctors when a patient is unconscious or how to deal with the small but still troubling percentage of patients who wake up in pain during surgery, unable to communicate. She depicts her interactions with some of the foremost researchers working to understand these and other questions—e.g., why patients remember things that happened under anesthesia only when hypnotized and how an anesthesiologist can actually tell if a patient is awake. While Cole-Adams has amassed a lot of useful information and telling anecdotes, her purpose is not to simply narrate a history of anesthesia or to describe with scientific detail what happens to the brain when anesthetized. Incorporating dream accounts and bits of memoir, weaving in and out of her own and others’ stories, and sharing her own limitations of understanding, the author uses a collagelike structure that seems to mimic the amorphous nature of the mind as someone drifts into unconsciousness under anesthesia. As Cole-Adams writes, “part of the difficulty in talking about anesthesia—not how to do it, but what it actually does—is that any discussion veers almost immediately into the mystery of consciousness.”

While the author raises more questions than she answers, and some readers may be put off by her less-than-straightforward style, these are thought-provoking questions, and Cole-Adams presents a lyrical journey through the vital question of what it means to be human.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-950-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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