A worthy, only occasionally clunky treatise on matters of urgent concern.



Yawning can be contagious. Suicide, too, as this intriguing book shows.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Take bulimia, for instance. As journalist and psychologist Kravetz (co-author: Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success, 2014) writes, once bulimia was separated from anorexia and described in the psychological literature, the incidence of the disease grew and even spread to places where it had been unknown. Said the author who first wrote it up, “once it was described, and I take full responsibility for that…there was a common language for it.” Now, it seems, psychologists are seeking a common language for epidemic suicide, the larger subject of Kravetz’s look at how harmful memes spread and to which he was introduced when, soon after moving to Silicon Valley, he was on hand to record instances of children killing or harming themselves in patterns that suggest social contagion in all its varieties of “thought, behavior, or emotion.” The author moves about in space and time to address this phenomenon, sometimes with a little definitional fuzziness (“if something as universal as economics can cue a social contagion like greed…”), eventually settling on the notion of primes, or cues “that unconsciously convince people to accept new thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.” Such cues surround us, thanks to the pervasiveness of advertising and political argument, and while some of them may suggest to the unwary that killing oneself is a cool thing to do, they also suggest that we buy things, vote for people, and suchlike things in subconscious ways—ways that succeed, notes the author, when it seems as if they are ideas of our own, formed without outside influence. Kravetz’s account is too first-personal at too many turns (“Beyond my journalist’s penchant for analysis, I personally need to understand if there’s a solution…”), but he has covered the bases well, raising provocative questions on whether social contagion can be contained in the way that we ward off leprosy and smallpox.

A worthy, only occasionally clunky treatise on matters of urgent concern.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-244893-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Wave

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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 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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...


Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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