Despite his impressive academic qualifications, Wall (Physiology/St. Thomas’s Medical School; Fellow/Royal Society) writes...



Pain is a universal experience, so everyone has strong beliefs on the subject. Wall (Defeating Pain, not reviewed) delivers an expert’s account for the general reader.

Aside from sensitive areas like politics and religion, most intelligent people enjoy discovering everything they believe is wrong. Wall overturns many popular beliefs, but he plays no favorites, and he insists that the medical profession must also rethink its ideas. We learned in medical school that pain occurs when nerve signals from injured tissue stimulate the pain center in the brain, but this turns out to be wrong. Frequently injured tissue is pain-free, but normal tissue hurts (no one suffering a backache believes his back is healthy, for example, but 85 percent of painful backs show no evidence of injury—and for headaches, this number approaches 100 percent). Yet these victims suffer genuine pain. No study reveals a single pain center in the brain; half-a-dozen areas become active when something hurts (areas that govern attention, orientation, planning for action, and bodily processes such as blood pressure and heart rate), but nothing hurts until the brain gives it a thorough evaluation. After explaining the mechanism of pain, the author turns to its relief, and, again, surprises come thick and fast. Morphine is a natural herbal remedy. Not only is it derived from a plant, but its action mimics a natural narcotic-like substance produced by the brain to modulate pain. The chapter on placebos is an eye-opener: they are, in fact, powerful remedies with significant side effects. Reacting to placebos, therefore, is not a sign that one is suggestible or weak-minded, but rather that one expects a certain outcome. Every human reacts to placebos, as do dogs and rats.

Despite his impressive academic qualifications, Wall (Physiology/St. Thomas’s Medical School; Fellow/Royal Society) writes lucidly, using vivid examples, stories from his own life, and a generous dose of personal opinions. Readers may find they know more about pain than those who should be experts—such as their doctors.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2000

ISBN: 0-231-12006-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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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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