A contribution to the doom-and-gloom genre that might actually cheer you up.



An around-the-end-of-the-world tour in the company of a smart, funny, and thoughtful guide.

Near the beginning, O’Connell (To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death, 2016) describes watching a video of an “emaciated polar bear” struggling to find food. “It occurred to me then that the disgust I felt was a symptom of a kind of moral vertigo,” he writes, “resulting from the fact that the very technology that allowed me to witness the final pathetic tribulations of this emaciated beast was in fact a cause of the animal’s suffering in the first place.” To live in the modern world is to be complicit in its decline; nothing new there. But what can/should/will we do about it? The author makes no attempt to persuade us to drive electric cars and sequester carbon. Whether visiting underground shelters in South Dakota, billionaire refuges in New Zealand, or the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, he studies the end of the world from a decidedly detached perspective. About a retreat he attended in Scotland, he writes, “this was not the sort of explicitly romantic endeavor I would ordinarily involve myself in, what with the unwieldy carapace of cynicism I had allowed to grow around me over the course of my adult life.” This kind of self-awareness around his project enables the humor O’Connell uses to cope with horror. His wry tone is effective in exposing the ridiculousness of many of the survivalists and technolibertarians he encountered. “If my portrayal of him [the owner of a luxury underground shelter] seems to be verging on the mode of caricature, even of outright grotesquerie, it is only because this was how he presented himself to me in fact.” It might be a bit much if O’Connell weren’t able to offer a sincere and life-affirming response to all the grimness: Things have always been bad and about to get worse. Nihilism can follow from that, but it doesn’t have to.

A contribution to the doom-and-gloom genre that might actually cheer you up.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54300-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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 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...


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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