The ample bibliography and index attest to Kingwell’s wide learning, while the easy mix of popular culture and academic...

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IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

BETTER LIVING FROM PLATO TO PROZAC

An examination of our various definitions of happiness, written by philosopher Kingwell (Dreams of Millennium, 1997) with erudition and wit.

Kingwell’s formidable task is to take on the topic of happiness, avoid the usual grandiose or sentimental approaches, and transcend (without avoiding) the efforts of Madison Avenue, the feel-good gurus and therapists, and the A to Z of happiness products (alcohol to Zoloft). There are several prongs to his attack. He recaps several millennia of philosophical inquiry on the subject (Aristotle to George Burns) in his description of a weekend at a Maslov-inspired, Esalen Institute–type retreat. There he contemplates happiness amid the group’s exploration of feelings, their generous bear hugs, and their attempts at self-actualization. Kingwell remains an aloof, slightly cynical academic among these “near-suicidal depressives and possible schizophrenics”: he even tries Prozac and St. John’s Wort, but he gets no dopamine rush and notices no change whatsoever beyond the usual tedious side-effects. There are some dense passages of philosophy (from Solon or Boethius) included in Kingwell’s musings, but he also finds time to consider why Star Trek’s utopianism makes us feel good and to compare the relative virtues of overweight comedians (from The Honeymooners, Roseanne, The Drew Carey Show, and The Simpsons). These large Americans, Kingwell claims, represent our consumer culture’s satisfaction of appetites—the low road to happiness. Kingwell’s high road involves the virtue theory of happiness, pleasures more anticipated and remembered, our Founding Fathers’ property-based pursuit of happiness, and the words of Voltaire (“we must cultivate our garden”).

The ample bibliography and index attest to Kingwell’s wide learning, while the easy mix of popular culture and academic philosophy reflects well on his formidable writing skills.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-609-60535-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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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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