Heady, fruitful explorations of ill-charted terrain destined for a population explosion.



Insightful vignettes of people navigating the squirrelly years between 50 and 75.

Lawrence-Lightfoot (Education/Harvard Univ.; The Essential Conversation, 2003, etc.) profiles 40 individuals who had, by one measure or another, successful working lives and then took a new tack after age 50—voluntarily or not. They may be educated and financially secure, but they are also fragile and assailable in ways they haven’t experienced for many years as they make their way over foreign ground. They frequently find it discomfiting to be scrutinizing their identities and seeking to align their values with their actions, notes the author: “Something in us feels we are being irresponsible, or inappropriate, or maybe even unseemly, when we admit our lust for new learning,” especially when society assumes it’s time for them to be put out to pasture. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s investigation is anything but a dry, academic study. Her voice is by turns thoughtful, soothing and plaintive, as well as hungry for understanding what does and doesn’t work for these pilgrims. Standardized educational formats aren’t much help, she discovers; “school values and practices may distort organic learning across the life span, compromising and masking the impulses that might make us productive and creative learners.” It’s eye-opening to witness all the heavy lifting involved in these skirmishes with the new, including a lot of inefficiency and circling. (Happily, readers also learn that “old burdens become lighter.”) Tension, strangely enough, may prove crucial—not the kind of tension that leads to stress, but the kind that demands reconciliation between opposing forces or the charting of new scenarios by confronting ancient traumas. Other qualities worth having in your quiver: “openness, fearlessness, humility, and [the] capacity to look foolish.” It helps to be surrounded by a caring society—which is either the good news or the bad news, depending on your reservoir of another helpful virtue: hope.

Heady, fruitful explorations of ill-charted terrain destined for a population explosion.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-27549-5

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.


A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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