NOTES FROM AN APOCALYPSE

A PERSONAL JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE WORLD AND BACK

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

THE CULTURE MAP

BREAKING THROUGH THE INVISIBLE BOUNDARIES OF GLOBAL BUSINESS

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

A helpful guide to working effectively with people from other cultures.

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work,” writes Meyer, a professor at INSEAD, an international business school. Yet they face a wider array of work styles than ever before in dealing with clients, suppliers and colleagues from around the world. When is it best to speak or stay quiet? What is the role of the leader in the room? When working with foreign business people, failing to take cultural differences into account can lead to frustration, misunderstanding or worse. Based on research and her experiences teaching cross-cultural behaviors to executive students, the author examines a handful of key areas. Among others, they include communicating (Anglo-Saxons are explicit; Asians communicate implicitly, requiring listeners to read between the lines), developing a sense of trust (Brazilians do it over long lunches), and decision-making (Germans rely on consensus, Americans on one decider). In each area, the author provides a “culture map scale” that positions behaviors in more than 20 countries along a continuum, allowing readers to anticipate the preferences of individuals from a particular country: Do they like direct or indirect negative feedback? Are they rigid or flexible regarding deadlines? Do they favor verbal or written commitments? And so on. Meyer discusses managers who have faced perplexing situations, such as knowledgeable team members who fail to speak up in meetings or Indians who offer a puzzling half-shake, half-nod of the head. Cultural differences—not personality quirks—are the motivating factors behind many behavioral styles. Depending on our cultures, we understand the world in a particular way, find certain arguments persuasive or lacking merit, and consider some ways of making decisions or measuring time natural and others quite strange.

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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