A nice variety of perspectives on the pleasures and perils of excess.



Diverse reflections on substance abuse and society in 23 sharply fashioned testimonies.

“What once was viewed as a shocking moral deficiency is now increasingly seen as a tragic vulnerability,” comments editor Shannonhouse (Out of Her Mind, 2000), who supports this assertion by selecting texts from both the addict’s point of view and that of society. Excerpts from Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) was one of the first accounts of Western drug use, and Sigmund Freud’s earnest inquiry, The Cocaine Papers, remind us that 19th-century society was fairly tolerant of controlled substance use. By contrast, in his 1891 essay on “The Ethics of Wine-Drinking and Tobacco-Smoking,” Leo Tolstoy argues persuasively (if verbosely) that “the universal habit of consuming hashish, opium, wine, and tobacco . . . is, beyond all doubt, highly pernicious [and] fraught with terrible evils.” Early-20th-century entries, including “How Children are Made Drunkards” and “The Enemy” (a 1909 tale of a woman’s morphine addiction), take an even more moralistic tone. Their lugubrious air is lightened by O. Henry’s barbed “Let Me Feel Your Pulse,” which transforms the cynical narrator’s alcoholism into hallucinatory prose, and by the mordant insider’s perspective offered in “A Bartender Tells What Man Did to Booze and Booze to Man.” Familiar pieces by literary figures include Dorothy Parker’s “Big Blonde,” John Cheever’s “The Sorrows of Gin,” and excerpts from Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs, and The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley. Not all the addictive behavior explored is chemical: in a selection from Double Down, Stephen and Frederick Barthelme ruefully chronicle runaway gambling, while a jagged excerpt of Sue Silverman’s memoir Love Sick dissects the sexual addict’s compulsion to sleep with strangers. In the final piece, “Confessions of a Middle-Aged Ecstasy Eater,” a lonely father reconnects with his delinquent son via the drug and rails against current punitive restrictions on adult pursuit of sensation and enlightenment.

A nice variety of perspectives on the pleasures and perils of excess.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-75716-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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 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...


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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