FORKS, PHONOGRAPHS, AND HOT-AIR BALLOONS

A FIELD GUIDE TO INVENTIVE THINKING

First-time author Weber (Psychology/Oklahoma State) on how inventions—from doorknobs to Velcro—come to be. Weber sees invention as ``the connection between technology and the creative spark or crawl of the mind.'' Often, this connection is made by ``parsing''—dividing an invention into its parts or procedures. Thus, the Wright Brothers achieved motorized flight by parsing their goal into problems of lift, power, and control, and addressing each in turn, while rival aeronauts with greater financial resources failed through inadequate analysis. Weber gives lessons on how to describe, compare, and evaluate inventions: An elaborate chart detailing differences between nail and screws is typical and may lead some to wonder whether the writer is belaboring the obvious. Fledgling inventors may be more enthusiastic over Weber's discussion of ``heuristics,'' a ``rule of thumb for generating ideas or for solving problems.'' Heuristics range from repetition (``once an interesting component is discovered...try copying or repeating it as often as necessary'') to linkage (``try joining those tools or devices that undo the actions of one another. These are often useful combinations'') or transformation (how did the tooth evolve into the saw?). Upon this rather abstract loom, Weber weaves the story of dozens of devices, from forks to coffeepots to screws. He dotes on handles and containers (the latter involved in everything from tea bags to cooking pots). Invention is more than objects, as he shows by parsing a supermarket into the various shopping ``procedures'' that make it tick. A final chapter, on gene splicing between different species, draws some doubtful parallels between ancient mythology and modern gene splicing, and is notable for failing to address the moral issues involved. Covers some of the same ground as Henry Petroski's The Evolution of Useful Things (p. 1297), with less flair but more hands-on advice. (Thirty illustrations.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-506402-X

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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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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