As usual with Sacks, an absorbing attempt to unravel the complexities of the human mind.



Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, 2007, etc.) once again uses the experiences shared with him by patients and others to probe “the complex workings of the brain and its astounding ability to adapt and overcome disability.”

The author provides six case histories of patients with intriguing vision problems, beginning with the story of a 67-year-old concert pianist who consulted him over her loss of the ability to read music—although she could still perform it brilliantly from memory, and even transpose a Haydn string quartet piece which she played on the piano. She also suffered from increasing spatial disorientation and difficulty recognizing everyday items. MRI tests showed increasing neurologic damage, but this did not lessen her keen insight into her own condition, even though her ability to manage independently declined. In “Face-Blind,” Sacks examines his own congenital difficulty—“trouble with faces and places”—which remains a problem for him at age 76. He even once confused the face of a man seen through a window with a supposed mirror image of his own face—both sported heavy beards. The author compares his adult experience losing stereoscopic vision after suffering a tumor in one eye to that of a previously cross-eyed woman who gained it after a correction allowed her to focus both eyes. Both described a flattened perception of depth when using only one eye. Similarly, Sacks ponders the ability of the blind to visualize scenes that are described to them in vivid detail. “If there is indeed a fundamental difference between experience and description,” he writes, “between direct and mediated knowledge of the world, how is it that language can be so powerful?”

As usual with Sacks, an absorbing attempt to unravel the complexities of the human mind.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-27208-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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