In this sturdy if sometimes long-winded account of tobacco in America, high-toned moralizing on the plight of the ``millions enslaved by nicotine'' accompanies level-headed analysis of the evils of cigarettes. We are ``creatures of folly and victims of our darker nature,'' writes journalist Kluger (The Paper, 1986, etc.), citing as evidence the fact that humans have embraced tobacco and die in appalling numbers because of it. Kluger takes the reader on a historical tour of tobacco, ``one of the treasured and unanticipated gifts of the Old World to the New,'' before settling into an account of tobacco production and marketing in 20th-century America. He is a master at ferreting out intriguing information—by 1891, he notes, cigarette makers were clearing a 27 percent profit margin, an investor's dream that remains constant today—and he has the eye of a John McPhee for piling on data to arrive at a point. That talent sometimes threatens to undo Kluger's narrative; he takes a couple of hundred pages, for instance, to document medicine's quest to determine that cigarette smoking is unhealthy. Bent on exposing the evil of cigarette industrialists, however, the author produces ample rope with which they can hang themselves; one villain among many is Robert Heimann, the head of American Brands in the 1970s, who confessed that his company ``had never bothered'' to assemble a panel of doctors or scientists to advise on the potential health hazards of cigarettes, but who nonetheless tried to be a good corporate citizen by not dumping toxic chemicals into the James River. Rich in long asides on taxation, federal regulation, power politics, and the complexities of international trade, Kluger's endlessly interesting book closes with a discussion of recent liability lawsuits brought against cigarette manufacturers, especially Philip Morris, the greatest villain in Kluger's gallery, and of the ever-lengthening ``shadow of litigation, that chronic potential spoiler of their financial well-being.'' Put this in your pipe and prepare for a richly rewarding read.

Pub Date: April 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-394-57076-6

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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