There is actually a love story (largely unrequited) amid all this finagling, but it's capitalism that charms you breathless.

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THE INVISIBLE HEART

AN ECONOMIC ROMANCE

A romance from MIT Press? Yes, because it's devoted to radical economic ideas delivered as marvelously inventive fiction.

Business scholar and NPR commentator Roberts (The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism, 1993, not reviewed) hangs his debut novel on a trick, which of course we can't give away, but think clever twists à la The Sixth Sense. The story: Sam Gordon teaches high-school economics at the high-toned Edwards School in Washington, D.C. Sam's pro-capitalist ideas about economics sound an outlandish drumbeat for $ucce$$ that would have Ayn Rand hauling him straight into the bedroom. Though at first blush his ideas sound immoral and unprincipled, they're grounded in profound good sense. As Sam explains to unmarried English teacher Laura Silver: "There is an invisible heart at the core of the marketplace, serving the customer and doing it joyously." A hundred years ago, he tells her, forty percent of the American population lived on farms; today only three percent do. What if, out of "compassion," we'd passed laws against the improved technology that drove the kids off the farms, just as we might fetter today's industries and keep them stateside? Our new technologies would not have arisen. Never regulate business! Sam insists. Among his stunned students is Amy Hunt, daughter of powerful Senator Hunt (member of the school's supervisory board), and her parroting of Sam's radical capitalism around her house may get him in deep trouble. Meanwhile, a subplot goes forward as giant pharmaceuticals firm HealthNet moves to Mexico, causing a huge loss of jobs in an American factory town. Can watchdog Erica Baldwin's Office of Corporate Responsibility bring HealthNet's fanged CEO, Charles Krauss, to heel?

There is actually a love story (largely unrequited) amid all this finagling, but it's capitalism that charms you breathless.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-262-18210-6

Page Count: 266

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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