Though repetitive, an eye-opening look at the ways of the world—at least the world as the cool kids know it.

POPULAR

THE POWER OF LIKABILITY IN A STATUS-OBSESSED WORLD

For those who wish they sat at the popular kids’ table back in the day comes this intriguing treatise on how popularity works, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

It’s a tragic fact that life often recapitulates high school, that one’s place in the pecking order seldom changes, whether playground meat or prom king. Prinstein (Clinical Psychology/Univ. of North Carolina), a self-described “psychology nerd,” observes that the course of one’s popularity through life is firmly established way back in first grade. However, he notes repeatedly, there are two kinds of popularity: one is an indicator of status and thus highly variable, while the other is likability, which “captures those we feel close to and trust, and the people who make us happy when we spend time with them.” Confusing the two categories, by Prinstein’s account, is a good way to make oneself unhappy, as with one popular girl who, invited to all the right parties, began to ingest everything on hand at those festivities, earning herself an alcohol dependency. As the author writes, there are actual physiological reasons for seeking status, things that happen in the ventral striatum that reward us for success in the brain’s “emotional salience” network. Unfairly, the popular kids often live longer than the unpopular ones, perhaps as a consequence of the latter’s being “isolated, disconnected, lonely” and made mean by “hostile attribution bias,” the tendency to blame our problems on others. Prinstein closes his discussion with an enumeration of the qualities of likability, including self-reflection, taking turns in conversation and other activities rather than dominating them, and not disrupting the group in naked self-interest. A word for the downtrodden: the author suggests that the better kind of popularity is not necessarily inborn—i.e., people can change their own luck by cultivating these and other qualities.

Though repetitive, an eye-opening look at the ways of the world—at least the world as the cool kids know it.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56373-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2017

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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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