From Model-Ts to TVs to McMansions, Hyman uncovers the credit story behind all the glittering prizes and offers a...



From an economic historian, a timely look at the evolution of consumer debt in the United States.

Staggering debt, specifically in the form of student loans, accounts for many of the numbers swelling today’s Occupy Wall Street movement. Having graduated into a market where there are no jobs, young Americans feel bitterly duped at having pointlessly incurred the sort of “good” debt traditionally assumed by previous generations, confident that dividends would be forthcoming. How did we reach this pass? Hyman (Industrial and Labor Relations/Cornell Univ.; Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink, 2011) takes us almost decade by decade through the history of consumer debt, beginning just prior to the 1920s when individual borrowing still carried a moral stigma. The advent of the automobile changed all that. Soon, buying cars and houses on credit—all OK according to sophisticated financial advisors as long as the purchases conformed to a “budget” easily calculated when incomes were rising and jobs rarely lost—became a mark, not of being unable to pay, but rather of trustworthiness and stalwart character. Properly understood, borrowing is neither good nor bad in itself. Rather, it’s a part of American capitalism, “more than numbers, it is a set of relationships between people and institutions” well within our power to regulate. From the time when lenders and borrowers stared at each other across a desk to today’s impersonal transactions where debt can be traded “like any other commodity,” Hyman fills his narrative with a variety of tales that help us put the current economic turmoil in perspective. Confirmed free-marketeers will balk at portions of his analysis, thinking he’s gone too easy, for example, on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and hold his big-picture solutions—new federal agencies to evaluate businesses the same way the FHA created standards for homes and to coordinate the secondary market for securitization of business loans—at arm’s length, even if they agree with his goal of stimulating business investment. For the most part, however, this is an evenhanded account aimed at the general reader baffled by today’s economic crisis.

From Model-Ts to TVs to McMansions, Hyman uncovers the credit story behind all the glittering prizes and offers a prescription to prevent the American Dream from turning into the American Nightmare.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-74168-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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