ARE RACISTS CRAZY?

HOW PREJUDICE, RACISM, AND ANTISEMITISM BECAME MARKERS OF INSANITY

A sharp contribution to a significant topic that continues to generate heated discussion and debate.

A tour d’horizon of the historical relationship among race, racism, and mental illness.

Although Gilman (Liberal Arts and Sciences and Psychiatry/Emory Univ.; Seeing the Insane, 2013, etc.) and Thomas (Sociology/Univ. of Mississippi; Working to Laugh: Assembling Difference in American Stand-Up Comedy Venues, 2015, etc.) journey as far back as the Enlightenment, the meat of their investigation covers the period from the 19th century to the present—and the meat is occasionally chewy, with demands placed on readers to be conversant with, say, “the crowd as a forensic concept has its origins in the Lombrosian criminal psychiatry.” Nonetheless, in the authors’ tracking of the great shift from pathologizing race to pathologizing racism, they cut through a broad swath of theorists, many of whom will be known to general readers. Furthermore, the clear, spot-on summations of the familiar theorists allow readers a measure of comfort in the treatment of less-known theorists (until the necessary supplementary reading can be done). Throughout, it’s clear that what galls Gilman and Thomas is the expropriation of the subject by one branch of learning or another, juggling among medicine, sociology, biology, and psychiatry. Jews and blacks, understandably, are the subjects of much study, with the notion of race defined first in physiology, then the susceptibility of disease, and then the inability to find social adaptation. Ultimately, scientific racism moves “from overwhelmingly a biological condition to a socially constructed category.” Although the historical transit over the subject alone makes the book valuable, equally useful are the authors’ explorations of interiority, hatred, and crowd thinking. They examine Gabriel Tarde’s laws of imitation; how Wilhelm Reich bridged the gap between Karl Marx and Freud; and, most illuminatingly, “conjunction,” a “crisis between politics, science, and ideology...a period during which the different social, political, economic, and ideological contradictions that are at work in a society come together to give [racism] a specific shape.”

A sharp contribution to a significant topic that continues to generate heated discussion and debate.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4798-5612-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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