For policy and financial wonks, a smart, bracing and sobering read; for voters, fair warning about possible outcomes of the...

THE RECKONING

DEBT, DEMOCRACY, AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN POWER

The fiscal sky is falling, and it’s George W. Bush’s fault.

Moran, a geopolitics and economics writer for Slate and other publications, is far more sophisticated than that opening declaration suggests, but in the main his arguments line up with it. Two economically catastrophic events took place on Bush’s watch or even at his instigation—the “disastrous Iraq War” is one, “U.S.-inspired economic policies that encouraged global capitalism to run riot” the other. “The damage,” writes the author, “will haunt America for a generation.” As he notes, Americans have long tended to shrug off the costs of war as simply the costs of doing business as global policeman and superpower, but there are no funds left for such behavior anymore—much as those who are now calling for war with Iran might pretend otherwise. That said, Moran does not necessarily project a decline in American influence around the globe; we may be broke, but we also have “the world’s largest domestic consumer market, as well as a commanding lead in many of the disruptive technologies that still drive product innovation.” He does not add the caveat, “for the moment,” though he does warn that choosing another leader like Bush would hasten Ragnarok, or at least its fiscal equivalent. Parting ways with other critics from the progressive side of the aisle, Moran does allow that debt will have to be curbed and the political will found not just to do that, but also to convey to the rest of the world—especially creditors—that we’re serious. That will come with some cost, personal and national, and it will almost certainly require the U.S. to shed its “superpower cape.”

For policy and financial wonks, a smart, bracing and sobering read; for voters, fair warning about possible outcomes of the looming November elections.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-230-33993-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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