A meditative, if sometimes-overwritten, appraisal of compulsion and love.


I Want to Know What Love Is

In the absence of love, a man seeks solace in pathological gambling and literature in this debut memoir.

When Rosenthal was just 11 years old, his father attempted suicide and was institutionalized. The author’s socially awkward teenage years were lonely ones, and he turned to literature to experience and understand the romantic love he wanted but could never attain. He entered the University of Iowa’s renowned creative writing program, but failed playwriting, a harbinger of his future disappointment as a writer. He then meandered from one high school teaching job to another, and during a stint on the faculty of American University in Washington, D.C., he discovered the obsession that would dominate his life for the next quarter-century: gambling on horse racing. He accepted a position at Northern Illinois University, mostly due to its proximity to racetracks, and sank himself so deep in debt, he says, that he was reduced to various kinds of financial fraud in order to barely stay afloat. Along the way, Rosenthal suffered both minor indignities (he was caught shoplifting after squandering thousands of dollars in winnings in a single day) and major ones (bankruptcy). Eventually, he sought help from therapists and programs for gambling addicts and found some stability, if not the fullness of redemption. This is an eclectic work that combines self-help, personal memoir, and a philosophical meditation on the nature and possibility of romantic love. Rosenthal’s story is a familiar one, but he tells it with considerable flair and erudition. Unfortunately, his style sometimes devolves into undisciplined flamboyance: “Pugnacious bouncers bum-rush the pathetic imbibers onto the street as reward for emptying their pockets to an old barkeep pissed off at having to listen to the same old racetrack B.S. from whining losers seeking no more than a sympathetic ear for solace.” Also, he sometimes piles up literary references that do little to illustrate his points, and the fact that this brief work is distilled down from 3,000 pages of journal entries makes it a bit scattershot. That said, Rosenthal is bracingly candid about his missteps, and exceedingly thoughtful throughout.

 A meditative, if sometimes-overwritten, appraisal of compulsion and love. 

Pub Date: March 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5049-6683-2

Page Count: 144

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2017

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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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