The step-by-step accumulation of argument and evidence is overwhelming in its thoroughness and attention to detail.

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A BIGGER PRIZE

HOW WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THE COMPETITION

Entrepreneur Heffernan (Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, 2011, etc.) systematically deconstructs the social myths associated with hypercompetitiveness while providing a formidable case about how counterproductive, and even perverse, it can be.

The author considers the effects of hypercompetitiveness in the realms of family, education, sports, scientific research, and business and corporate leadership. She shows that in each subject area, there is a ruling principle at work under which “the product [or result] is prized over the process.” In education, making the grade becomes more important than doing the work for its own sake and actually learning in the process. In sports and business, “winning” is the name of the game. Heffernan strengthens her argument by referencing scientific research that proves why hypercompetitiveness, reward-based systems and hierarchical ranking systems don't work. Instead, they have been shown to encourage cheating, gaming the system, secrecy and lack of transparency. This kind of research goes back at least 100 years. The author refers to the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who proved decades ago that rewards based on performance undermine internal motivation. She also discusses work from the 1950s on the lack of correlation between rewards-based education and creative productiveness, examining how destructive certain kinds of curricula can be. “Using competition to identify the best,” she writes, “and then using the best to inspire the rest turns out to be a great theory; it just doesn’t work in practice.” The costs—excessive stress, unhealthy habits and general unhappiness—often outweigh the benefits of fostering success through competition. Heffernan helpfully compares these consequences to scientific studies of the behavior of chickens in regard to pecking order and other concepts. She also discusses alternate approaches that have been applied successfully in education and business.

The step-by-step accumulation of argument and evidence is overwhelming in its thoroughness and attention to detail.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1610392914

Page Count: 304

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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