WHERE THE SUCKERS MOON

AN ADVERTISING STORY

A tedious case study of what can happen before, during, and after the shift of a desirable advertising account from one agency to another. In an effort to revive the company's flagging car sales, Subaru of America (SOA) put its sizable (albeit modest by auto- industry standards) account up for grabs during 1991. Drawing on the access granted him by SOA, Rothenberg (The Neoliberals, 1984) offers an exhaustive and ultimately exhausting rundown on a commercial mating dance. He also lards his fly-on-the-wall reportage with digressive takes on the history of big-league advertising and its dominant players. To some extent, these asides provide context for the author's evaluation of the work done by the survivor of SOA's screening process—Wieden & Kennedy, a so-called postmodernist shop based in Portland, Oreg., which made a name for itself as Nike's ad agency. Like many partnerships, the SOA/W&K alliance proved short-lived, contentious, and mutually frustrating. The association ended not with a bang but a whimper shortly after the agency's spots (duly approved by a Subaru management team that had been revamped in the interim) finished dead last in a USA Today survey of viewer reactions to commercials broadcast during the 1993 Super Bowl telecast. In reporting countless instances of high- stakes conflict and steering the episodic narrative up innumerable blind alleys, however, Rothenberg (who borrowed the book's title from an A.J. Liebling pensÇe on fortune) frequently loses track of his story. He doesn't even get around to detailing the background of SOA's Japanese owner (Fuji Heavy Industries) until near the end. As it happens, the parent organization's engineering-versus-styling bias informed many of the clashes over image that marked promotional debates at SOA during the early 1990s. Despite a few fine set pieces, this is an overlong, essentially pointless anecdote in which unsympathetic hucksters are pitted against one another—and the consuming public.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-41227-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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