At the edges where popular science and popular social criticism meet, with interesting if not always sharply limned...

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THE HACKING OF THE AMERICAN MIND

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF OUR BODIES AND BRAINS

I want my MTV—and my doughnuts and my meth. Thus the American mind, racing to attain rewards that entire industries are glad to supply.

Lustig (Pediatric Endocrinology/Univ. of California, San Francisco; Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, 2012, etc.), the chief officer of the nonprofit EatREAL, has written widely on the obesity epidemic, particularly among younger Americans. Here, branching out into realms such as neuroscience, sociology, and even theology, he looks at the reward system whereby the brain lives and dies via serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine, chemicals that drive us to have that one piece of cake too many—or to smoke, snort cocaine, stare into our cellphones, and watch game shows. Medical specialists treat effects, he argues, whereas we should be looking into root causes: not just the chemistry of the brain, driven to seek reward and vulnerable to falling into addiction, but also the economic machine that creates vast industries devoted to choking processed foods with reward-delivering sugar and putting an opioid-supplying pharmacy on every street corner. That economic machine is massively parasitic and spectacularly successful. Lustig leaves it to readers to connect the dots—as he writes, early on, “I’m not going to stick my neck so far out as to say that there has been a conspiracy between different industries and the government to purposefully inflict malice on the public”—and there are plenty of dots to connect. With so much to condemn, the argument is sometimes loose and scattershot, but there’s a lot to write about in the vast subject of how the brain works and how capitalism aims to satisfy its every craving, no matter how harmful to body, mind, and society.

At the edges where popular science and popular social criticism meet, with interesting if not always sharply limned arguments.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-98258-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Avery

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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