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...


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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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