This book compiles public lectures by eight neuroscientists in a series sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and edited by a former managing editor for Time-Life Books. Each lecture serves as a primer for the general reader. However, the coverage is a little skewed. While the experts here cut a wide swath in brain research—including development, learning, emotions, mental illness, addiction, and dreaming—nearly all emphasize the role of stress, fear, anxiety, depression, and kindred downers as essential in building our brains. To be sure, without hardwiring of fear and our responses to it, we would lack the wherewithal “to take arms against a sea of troubles.” All the same, from Jerome Kagan’s pioneering studies of shyness to J. Allan Hobson’s comment that most dreams are unpleasant, one can—t help but feel there must be more to the life of the mind. That said, much here is of interest. Kay Redfield Jamison provides a fascinating lecture on depression and manic-depression in relation to creativity; her examples include Byron, Woolf, and Hemingway. Such conditions have genetic components, and she offers evidence that the expansive thinking associated with elevated mood states may lead to making novel connections and combinations of ideas. Elsewhere, in pieces contributed by Bruce McEwen (stress and the brain), Esther Sternberg (emotions and diseases), and Joseph LeDoux (the power of emotions), contributors discuss how emotions can be conditioned and affect unconscious memory, along with the recurrent theme that our nervous systems are intimately connected to the immune and endocrine systems. Potentially, hormones can upset the balance of the immune system and contribute to hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic ills. But Steven Hyman, among others, reminds us that the brain is also extraordinarily plastic—capable of unlearning bad habits, as well as learning new tricks. Good as far as it goes. But it would be nice to also have a series of lectures that accentuates the positive. (26 photos and drawings)

Pub Date: March 26, 1999

ISBN: 0-471-29963-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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