A good summary of current research, along with some lurid alarm-sounding.




Veteran neuroscience popularizer and psychiatrist Restak (Poe’s Heart and the Mountain Climber, 2004, etc.) approaches with both excitement and caution a decade’s worth of brain-imaging discoveries linking particular nerve circuits to complex behaviors.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other types of brain scans make it possible to track which cortical cognitive and sensorimotor areas and which subcortical emotional circuits light up when an experimental subject is thinking, reasoning, remembering, making moral decisions, gambling, arguing, feeling pain, looking at sad or happy or angry faces. Restak coins the terms social neuroscience and neurosociety for this kind of research; we are a social species, he emphasizes, dependent on mutual aid, trust and communication. He presents many interesting findings. For example: A synchrony between muscles and mind leads us to automatically position our bodies closer to positive events or experiences and distance ourselves from negative ones. “Mirror neurons” mimic the actions of the person we are watching or listening to, a phenomenon exploited by coaches who use imaging exercises for their teams. The brain tends to assume that oft-repeated information is true (remember Joseph Goebbels). The brain also has a “negativity bias”; it becomes more vigilant and active when given negative information. Its emotional centers play an important role in generating empathy. Restak also cites work on the role of hormones in bonding (oxytocin) and aggression (testosterone); on how memories can be implanted; and on the popularity of mind-enhancing drugs. Offering some overwrought examples, the author claims that this fascinating information could lead to brain manipulation by politicians, police, employers and marketers. Then he backs off with a caveat: This new “neurophrenology” is in its infancy; there is much more complexity to human behavior than brain scans can capture. The challenge is to continue to ask the biological and ethical questions that will keep us one step ahead of the manipulators.

A good summary of current research, along with some lurid alarm-sounding.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-9808-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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