A luminous, intellectually dense meditation on mind.



A lucid examination of the self in crisis.

For 18 months, Arikha, a philosopher and author of Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, attended weekly clinical meetings in the neuropsychiatry unit of the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, observing patients who presented difficult, sometimes bizarre, symptoms to their assembled medical team. Like neurologists Oliver Sacks and Antonio Damasio, Arikha, who calls herself a “science humanist,” reflects on these patients in her investigation of overarching questions about consciousness, identity, affliction, and memory. The many cases include a woman in her 30s who could not recall 10 years of her life; a man whose personality split into two identities; an 82-year-old woman, nearly blind, experiencing visual hallucinations; a 50-something married father of five who felt haunted, hearing things and sensing invisible presences. Some symptoms were somatic: One woman’s hand became “the locus for all her anxiety, fear and frustration.” One man lost all feeling on his left side and then could not form new memories. Prominent among these cases was Arikha’s mother, a poet and memoirist who was sinking inexorably into dementia, her memory “shunting her from place to place, as if she were ice skating blindfolded.” Her mother’s mind takes a central place in this wide-ranging, engaging study that encompasses philosophy, history, medicine, memoir, and science. “This book,” she writes, “is about both the self as it studies itself, and the self as it loses itself”; how each of us makes our felt experiences coherent; how memory affirms our identity; and the ease with which our “planned trajectories” can rupture and plummet us into illness. “Our self in time,” writes the author, “is but a thin gauze wrapped around the shifting elements we are made of.” The book is also about the limits of medical and scientific knowledge to treat patients who defy categorization, to empathize with their experience, and to ameliorate their pain.

A luminous, intellectually dense meditation on mind.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5416-0087-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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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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