An entertaining look at our oft-maligned intuitive capabilities, offering useful tips on how we may sharpen our powers of...

THE TELL

THE LITTLE CLUES THAT REVEAL BIG TRUTHS ABOUT WHO WE ARE

In his debut, Hertenstein (Psychology/DePauw Univ.) contends that the predictive power of the human brain is exemplified by its ability to draw accurate conclusions “based on observations of brief samples of others' behavior.”

The author has honed his lively style with appearances on NPR and the Today Show and his commentaries in the New York Times and other major publications, and he takes his title from the psychological component in poker. An inexperienced player reveals clues to his hand by a variety of “tells.” Before deciding on a bet, an experienced player will judge “how an opponent stares, the speed with which he lays down cards, or how quickly he is breathing.” Hertenstein expands on this idea, examining, for example, physical and behavioral clues that indicate gay versus straight sexual orientation, as well as how experiments have revealed how “[t]he perceived power of male Fortune 500 CEOs’ faces predicts the profitability of their companies.” Further, marriage counselors who meet engaged couples can predict the likelihood of divorce with 90 percent accuracy by judging fleeting facial expressions and body language. Based on nonverbal clues, strangers watching only 30 seconds of a video can distinguish between instructors given a high- or low-quality end-of-term evaluation by their students. On a more serious note, Hertenstein looks at the experiences of soldiers in dangerous areas, who must remain alert to signs that a parked car might contain a bomb. Despite our useful ability to form accurate first impressions, the author rightly notes the importance of being open to information that contradicts as well as supports our hunches. “[S]cience will continue to identity the tells that truly are predictive versus those we merely think of as such,” writes the author in closing.

An entertaining look at our oft-maligned intuitive capabilities, offering useful tips on how we may sharpen our powers of observation and increase the accuracy of our predictions.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-465-03165-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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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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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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