A smart and subtle delight—highly recommended for fans of cards and brain-hacking alike.

THE BIGGEST BLUFF

HOW I LEARNED TO PAY ATTENTION, MASTER MYSELF, AND WIN

Russian American writer and psychologist Konnikova explores the mathematically and psychologically rich world of high-stakes poker.

In her latest, the author opens at the World Series of Poker, where, “for a neat ten grand, anyone in the world can enter and take their shot at poker glory”—and a chance to win up to $9 million. Konnikova seeks to explore the fine line between skill and luck, “to learn what I could control and what I couldn’t.” If ever there were a game to illustrate those categories, poker is it: There’s a numeracy and a logic to the game, to say nothing of the psychology of such things as the tell, the gestures or betting behaviors of one’s opponents at the table. There are other lessons to learn along the way, including forgoing complacency and simply paying attention to everything that’s unfolding before you: “Presence is far more difficult than the path of least resistance,” writes the author with oracular economy. The theme of untangling what might be attributed to skill and what to chance engages Konnikova throughout: How much of her success has turned on hard work and how much on being in the right place at the right time? Whatever the case, she traveled to all the right places—Macau, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo—and even made some money along the way. The payoffs for readers are more cerebral, including Konnikova’s observation that we think we have much more control over our lives than we really do. She peppers her reflections with the sage advice of experts (“Less certainty, more inquiry”) as well as headier stuff from the scholars, including John von Neumann’s game theory, which turns out to have been inspired by, yes, poker and the “little tactics of deception” that it involves.

A smart and subtle delight—highly recommended for fans of cards and brain-hacking alike.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52262-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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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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