Despite some flaws, a text with much to be savored—not least the upbeat message that you can take control.

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THE BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN

HOW BODY MAPS IN YOUR BRAIN HELP YOU DO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING BETTER

Two seasoned science writers enthuse about some new wrinkles in neuroscience, and ways you can benefit from the findings.

The wrinkles are literally those folds of neuron-rich cortex that cover the brain. Back in the 1930s, neurosurgeons charted the primary somatosensory and motor cortices, strips of brain tissue that map points on your body to points on the strip in an orderly way—brain cells receiving signals from your hand lie next to cells receiving signals from your wrist, and so on. The sensory cortex tells you where you have been touched; the motor cortex indicates which body parts you move. Each is part of larger integrated circuits that feed forward and back to create perceptions, actions and emotions, to build memories, etc. The key to these multiple anatomical layouts in the brain is plasticity: The brain maps can change, and you can help the process. One way is practice. Those maps in your finger areas can grow larger as you practice arpeggios or free throws. Evidence suggests that mental practice works too. The Blakeslees, a mother and son team, see potential reversals for stroke paralysis, but they also describe a host of weird body distortions that result from disease or brain injury. “Amputee wannabes,” for example, seek to have body parts removed. Dieters who relapse may be stuck with a mismatch between their new, thin body map and their long-standing, fat body image. Curiously, the authors do not consider the role of hormones and neurochemicals. They are also cavalier in their discussion of pain, surely one of the most complex phenomena, and all too readily assume that belief explains why any and all forms of alternative medicine may work.

Despite some flaws, a text with much to be savored—not least the upbeat message that you can take control.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6469-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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