Entertaining and envelope-pushing popular science.

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SCIENCE & LUST

BRAINY SEX: VOLUME I

A collection of essays explores the oddities of sex appeal.

Most of these 12 pieces originally appeared in psychologytoday.com’s “The Bejeezus Out of Me” column. Science journalist Coffey (Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story, 2014, etc.) is fascinated by fringe science stories and deftly draws attention to research that might otherwise be overlooked. For instance, according to a study in Indonesia, women with tall husbands are happier, perhaps because of the evolutionary lure of a strong protector. Another paper suggests fertile women are more attracted to men who are wearing red. Some surprising trends cannot be explained away by chance: Men cheat more when the wives are the breadwinners and are more likely to suffer penile fractures or sudden deaths during sex when committing adultery. Only 26 percent of women physically match the level of arousal they say they’re experiencing, as opposed to 66 percent of men. Norwegian porn is less degrading to women, in keeping with its more egalitarian society. “The Human Ape” is a particularly timely essay, written at the height of the #MeToo movement. Coffey compares the great apes’ sexual practices with humans’ to suggest that, put in perspective, men’s behavior might not be so bad. Yet the author cites a disturbing study in which nearly one-third of male college students said they would force sex if they were guaranteed there would be no consequences. Interestingly, this was at least partially a question of perception—when asked if they would “rape,” only 13 percent agreed. Other essays consider partner commitment and females’ predatory habits. Coffey’s interest in the life of Anna Freud fuels one of the most intriguing and in-depth essays. Sigmund Freud analyzed his daughter even though he recognized therapy can be an “erotic relationship.” Initially, the aim was to cure her of her masturbation habit; his work with her also led to his penis envy theory. A few of the shorter pieces feel insubstantial. But the author writes clearly and engagingly, and, as the first and most wide-ranging essay proves, she can bring together everything from the history of kissing to face mites within a handful of enjoyable pages. This offbeat collection should appeal to fans of author Mary Roach.

Entertaining and envelope-pushing popular science.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9972644-3-2

Page Count: 110

Publisher: Beck & Branch

Review Posted Online: June 6, 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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