Understanding phenomena has worked wonders in traditional medicine, and Nesse makes an appealing, convincing argument that...

GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS

INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONTIER OF EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHIATRY

An ingenious exploration of how Darwinian evolution explains mental disorders.

Psychiatrist Nesse (co-author: Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, 1995, etc.), the founding director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine of Arizona State University, points out that even though successful organisms are well-adapted to their environments, all suffer disease. Diseases are not adaptations, but the traits that lead to them can be explained. Indeed, there are “good evolutionary reasons why we have desires we cannot fulfill, impulses we cannot control, and relationships full of conflict.” Nesse points out his specialty’s core dilemma. While physicians have long frowned on treating symptoms (pain, fatigue, sadness) as diseases, psychiatry hasn’t gotten the message. Provided depression or anxiety is intense, it becomes a disorder to be treated, regardless of the patient’s life situation. Yet unpleasant feelings, no less than physical discomfort, represent useful evolutionary responses. “Natural selection does not give a fig for our happiness,” writes the author. “In the calculus of evolution, only reproductive success matters.” Thus, anxiety is useful for dealing with threats of all kinds—debts, deadlines, oncoming cars, etc. A human with a lack of anxiety will be eliminated from the gene pool by getting killed or jailed, but on the other hand, someone consumed with anxiety has little sex appeal. Depression may not be the consequence of a disordered brain but rather a normal response to an unreachable goal. Many of us have more of certain feelings than we need, but instead of assuming that a pleasant emotion is good and a painful emotion bad, evolutionary psychiatry evaluates its appropriateness to the situation. Readers searching for an attack on psychiatry or a formula for achieving happiness have an avalanche of choices, but they will not regret choosing this book, which is neither.

Understanding phenomena has worked wonders in traditional medicine, and Nesse makes an appealing, convincing argument that psychiatrists who recognize the evolutionary function of emotions will find greater success.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-98566-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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...

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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