Readable, sensible, scholarly, convincing. (5 b&w illustrations)

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SEXING THE BRAIN

Australian physician Rogers (Neuroscience/Univ. of New England) argues in clear, crisp prose that discussions about differences between the sexes must consider environmental as well as genetic and hormonal factors.

Rogers establishes immediately that her account is not just about the science of sex differences: “It is also about social attitudes and prejudice.” She recognizes that research into gender differences has long had a political as well as a scientific component: “When society wants to maintain inequality, biological explanations can be used to justify it.” Repeatedly, she states that the mere identification of differences does not explain their origins. If men and women, for example, do indeed process language differently, it does not follow that this difference is necessarily genetic or hormonal; the culture may teach boys and girls to process language tasks differently. Rogers has no use for reductionist explanations of human behavior. Accordingly, the search for individual genes to explain alcoholism or homosexuality does not impress her; nor does the entire field of sociobiology, which she believes emerged in the 1970s as a backlash against feminism. She devotes an entire chapter to the interest in identifying a so-called “gay gene,” an enterprise she believes is nonsensical. (She points to studies of identical twins—one gay, one not. How can sexual orientation be genetic, she asks, if genetically identical people can differ so fundamentally?) Rogers razes a number of traditional theoretical edifices—e.g., the notions that men and women differ in “spatial ability” and that the levels of testosterone in the blood of men determine the intensity of their libido (neither case is so, she claims). To demonstrate the power of environmental influences on sex differences, she employs the arresting example of mother rats, which lick the anogenital area of newborn males more frequently than of females, stimulating subsequent male-rat behavior in the recipients.

Readable, sensible, scholarly, convincing. (5 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-231-12010-9

Page Count: 129

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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