THE FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE

Self-loathing may or may not be the meaning between-the-lines of Sartre's writings; narcissism, however, seems the very crystallization of Simone de Beauvoir's. It's a peculiar sort of narcissism , the narcissism of the femme savante, usually referred to (by the one who possesses it) as unremitting honesty: the confessional of the intellectual, or a look in the mirror, without makeup, under the harshest light. It's other things, too: for instance, Camus'— "The sore that is scratched with such concern finally becomes a source of pleasure"—but then de Beauvoir doesn't like Camus.... This is the final volume of her autobiographical trilogy. The first explored her bourgeois rebellion; the second, the university years, the early Sartre relationship, the War; now, the past decades, from the Liberation to the present. It concludes a major work, major in that it gives us both a representative existentialist sensibility, and a behind-the-scenes picture of an age. Typically, the style's uneven; the thinking (especially the jumbled versions of certain aspects of Sartre's philosophy) embarrassing; and the disclosures about herself or other equally famous figures (poor Koestler....) rather antipathetic, self-regarding, one-sided. Everything has a tendency to slip out of gear: at one stretch the tempo is slipshod, then funereal; the tone ranges from the crisp to the lyrical, from the weary to the carping. Like Sartre, she came to political consciousness somewhat late in life; like him, she has certainly made up for it. History is Big Sister here, permeating all reactions: the revolving door maneuvers with the Communists, the positions taken vis-a-vis Korea, Algeria, Cuba, even her affaires de coeur. Indeed, how she reconciles ideological determinism with personal freedom (the book's truest touches, incidentally, concern drugs, compulsion- neuroses, thanatophobia) is certainly a triumph of sorts: one of the most significant solipsistic acts of the century. It is also a story which in its determined self-exposure has fascinated many and will continue to do so again.

Pub Date: June 15, 1965

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1965

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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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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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