Less a guide to success in relationships, creativity, or even business than an astute analysis of problem-solving.

FRAMERS

HUMAN ADVANTAGE IN AN AGE OF TECHNOLOGY AND TURMOIL

An appealing pop-science guide to creativity.

Books on problem-solving, including this one, tend to be directed toward aspiring businesspeople, but Economist senior editor Cukier and business school professors Mayer-Schönberger and de Vericourt offer a text that should have wider appeal. Unlike animals and computers, humans do not make decisions according to fixed rules. We operate with a mental model of a situation, a frame, that becomes critical when solving problems. Among the authors’ numerous illustrative anecdotes is the story of Nokia. For decades, handsets steadily became smaller, cheaper, and more convenient. That was the model, and Nokia led in sales. When Apple introduced the “bulkier, pricier, and buggier” iPhone in 2008, many companies did not realize that Apple had reframed the model, and Nokia barely escaped bankruptcy Although an accepted tenet in psychology for a century, framing entered the mainstream only when human intelligence bumped up against the limitation of computers. Computers calculate, solve complex problems, and even learn, but they remain helpless without human input: “AI is brilliant at answering what is asked; framers pose questions never before voiced. Computers work only in a world that exists; humans live in ones they imagine through framing.” This incredibly efficient means to reaching a decision requires three key elements: “causal thinking,” which predicts in advance what an action will produce; “counterfactuals,” which serve as “a form of dreaming—but wisely channeled, deliberately focused”; and “constraints,” which place limits on our imagination, allowing us to focus on actions that matter. The authors conclude with a long plea for pluralism, “friction,” and diversity in business, our personal lives, and society as a whole. “Uniformity is the end of successful framing,” they write. While tribalism and groupthink remain the default modes for many humans, the authors put forth solid theories supported by scientific researchers, educators, expert consultants, philosophers, and other thinkers.

Less a guide to success in relationships, creativity, or even business than an astute analysis of problem-solving.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18259-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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