A provocative and convincing case of the malleability of what we think of as “our self, which in reality is a multiplicity...




A multiangled exploration of the slippery notion of self-identity.

Levine (Psychology/California State Univ., Fresno; The Power of Persuasion: How We're Bought and Sold, 2003, etc.) explains that contrasting the physical existence of the brain and the ethereal notion of the self cannot provide the answer he seeks. He believes it to be not only inadequate, but also claustrophobic, since it fails to address the “malleability of the self—its multiplicity and plasticity.” The author offers an intriguing set of examples of how frequently we experience multiple identities without recognizing them as such. He begins by examining our physical sense of self and the experience of pain in a phantom limb after amputation of the actual limb. He then moves on to phantom personalities: people who experience multiple shifting personalities or simply fail to recognize their own mirror image. Levine also explores the relationship between thinking—listening to one's inner voice—and the experience of hearing voices, which is sometimes a normal experience but can also be symptomatic of mental illness. We also often fail to account for our future selves in our daily lives. He gives the amusing example of having casually invited acquaintances to visit without expecting them to accept and being astonished when they showed up, and he offers a more distressing instance of how people look forward to retirement and then are bored without employment. The author also refers to a classic psychological experiment in which subjects were asked to play the role of prison guards and were easily induced to behave sadistically toward their prisoners. Out of these varied examples, Levine creates an engaging tapestry that illustrates how, often, what we think of as our fixed identity is an illusion.

A provocative and convincing case of the malleability of what we think of as “our self, which in reality is a multiplicity of characters” developed through time and circumstances.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-16791-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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