The interplay between conscious and unconscious cognition is not unfamiliar territory, as readers of Daniel Kahneman or...

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WHY WE SNAP

UNDERSTANDING THE RAGE CIRCUIT IN YOUR BRAIN

A neuroscientist asks, “what triggers [our] deadly switch for violence and killing?”

A bizarre encounter with a pickpocket gang in Barcelona was the inspiration for this book, writes Fields (The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science, 2010, etc.), the chief of the Nervous System and Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institutes of Health. He and his daughter were on their way to attend a neuroscience meeting when a thief grabbed his wallet. The author’s shockingly powerful response was instantaneous. In his mid-50s and weighing only 130 pounds, with “no martial-arts training, no military experience, no background in street fighting,” he subdued the thief with a stranglehold. Looking back on the event, he wondered at the precision of his response. “Somewhere deep in my brain,” he writes, “I must have been taking in this situational information unconsciously.” Fields believes that his response evoked “a deeply embedded automatic life-saving reaction” that had been preprogrammed into his DNA. Throughout the book, he explores how these automatic responses are triggered. He thoroughly examines how threats to survival—to a spouse or child, to self-esteem, to defense of the tribe—can cause the brain to circumvent conscious thought processes and snap into an immediate response. In worst-case scenarios, this can lead to domestic abuse, street violence, and other anti-social behavior. On the other hand, our rapid-response system can save lives—e.g., the author’s response to the pickpocket or a mother who snatches her child from danger. “Acts of heroism happen every day,” writes Fields. “This selfless reflexive response is never referred to as snapping, but from a neuroscience perspective, both heroic behaviors and rage behaviors are driven by exactly the same brain circuits.”

The interplay between conscious and unconscious cognition is not unfamiliar territory, as readers of Daniel Kahneman or Malcolm Gladwell will recognize, but Fields’ personal experience adds a fresh viewpoint to an intriguing subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-95483-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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