A thorough demolition of the reputation of Bruno Bettelheim, who is depicted here as tyrannical, arrogant, cruel, and above all a consummate liar. Unlike Nina Sutton, who approached the subject of her recent sympathetic psychobiography (Bettelheim, p. 589) as a noble old gentlemen, Pollak initially regarded him as ``the evil Doctor Sivana, arch-nemesis of Captain Marvel.'' A former executive editor of the Nation, Pollak first met Bettelheim in 1969 when he sought to learn more about his brother, who had attended the self-styled psychotherapist's Orthogenic School, a residential treatment center for disturbed children. The negative impression that Bettelheim made in this decidedly unfelicitous meeting was not greatly altered by Pollak's research. He examines several areas of Bettelheim's life especially closely. He questions the veracity of Bettelheim's published accounts of his concentration camp experience, upon which he built a reputation as an international authority not only on the camps but on the Holocaust itself. And after interviewing former residents and counselors at the Orthogenic School and examining Bettelheim's writings, Pollak concludes that his subject created a climate of fear there through his use of ``Nazi-Socratic methods'' and that his claims of success in treating disturbed children are largely unsubstantiated. Pollak is especially critical of his work on autism, which Bettelheim mistakenly attributed to bad mothering and for which he claimed remarkable but unproven treatment success. As for Bettelheim's well-known work on child- rearing on the Israeli kibbutz, Pollak characterizes it as ``a sea of prose that, like most of the author's previous works, lacks any systematic source notes, producing a vague scholarship blurred further by the dense fog of anonymity that envelops the book.'' Further, Pollak asserts that Bettelheim plagiarized parts of The Uses of Enchantment, his 1976 study of the psychological meaning of fairy tales, and he backs up this claim with convincing quotes. While hard on Bettelheim, Pollak is equally hard on the lay press for what he sees as its gullibility in accepting Bettelheim's self-created image. Strong, well-documented charges that are certain to stir rebuttals.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-80938-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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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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