A footnote to Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, but not a minor one.

TO PIXAR AND BEYOND

MY UNLIKELY JOURNEY WITH STEVE JOBS TO MAKE ENTERTAINMENT HISTORY

Pixar’s former chief financial officer turns in an insider’s account of one of the world’s most influential digital media companies.

Steve Jobs had made and lost a fortune by the time Levy showed up, having founded and then been ejected from Apple and gone to NeXT. In 1994, his new Pixar digital film company had chewed its way through $50 million of Jobs’ money “with little to show for it.” In part thanks to Levy’s legal skills and analytical powers, Jobs turned that around to become one of the wealthiest people in the world, controlling billions of dollars. The author’s account of his dozen years with Jobs follows an unsurprising, almost by-the-numbers trajectory: new guy comes to embattled company, helps company face and then overcome challenges, and finds himself wealthy and powerful but unfulfilled—with the twist that, instead of becoming a celebrity chef or an around-the-world adventurer, Levy winds up a student and then teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. In between the cut-to-standard scaffolding, though, Levy’s account offers some pleasant moments and insights, including anecdotes on how Toy Story came into being pixel by pixel, a process that helped lure Levy into the company to begin with. (“How do I know I’m not simply falling for the allure of a high-tech company making a film?” he asked a mentor, to which the response, in so many words, was, “Don’t be a schmuck and go for it.”) No mere technocrat, Levy is also good on the details of digital filmmaking, as when he writes of the considerable difficulties involved in rendering skin so that it doesn’t look like painted rubber: “These are nuances we never think about,” he observes, “but they are glaringly obvious when they are missing.” That’s just so, and there’s not much missing here—although there isn’t much in the way of news about Jobs himself, the star of the show.

A footnote to Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, but not a minor one.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-73414-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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