Not a light read but a fine starting point for exploring the mysteries of the brain.



A nonfiction work that offers an in-depth look at the mechanics of the human mind.

Shoji follows the thread of his book Self-Consciousness: The Hidden Internal State of Digital Circuits (2013) with an examination of how the mind knows itself and engages with the outside world. This extensive work dissects complex topics regarding brain function, such as language processing, memory, and writing systems. The author provides diagrams to illustrate his concepts (such as a “Block-Subblock Support Circuit”), and he often breaks his explanations down into the language of mathematics: “distortion of the Cartesian ↔ polar coordinate conversion.” His conclusions include the notion that fear is ultimately “the driving force creating the human mind” and that excessive competition in modern society may lead to humanity’s downfall. One can easily infer that Shoji’s logical, unadorned prose style stems from his decades working as a semiconductor-chip designer for Bell Laboratories.Amid such technical material, the author also reveals much about himself, such as early memories of his childhood in World War II–era Japan. He notes that he believes firmly in the theory of evolution and states that he doesn’t look for answers about human advancement in a God figure. He’s also immensely fond of myths and holds particular reverence for advanced ancient cultures, such as that of the Inca people. As a result, the book creates a unique perspective by not only examining ideas about the brain, but also the man behind those ideas. Some portions, however, are undeniably dense (“the arc specification that is vector c’s reversal and rotation, is specified by the excitation of a character bus line”), and close reading, if not rereading, will be required to get a clear picture. Still, this well-organized work does manage to shed light on the endlessly complex phenomenon of the self.

Not a light read but a fine starting point for exploring the mysteries of the brain.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5320-9392-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 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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