Horn engagingly explores a history that, perhaps surprisingly, extended into the 1960s, when the renamed island became a...

DAMNATION ISLAND

POOR, SICK, MAD, AND CRIMINAL IN 19TH-CENTURY NEW YORK

Somber study of a dark, little-known episode in the history of New York, when Riker’s Island wasn’t the only warehouse for the condemned.

It makes good sense, on reading Horn’s (Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, 2013, etc.) latest, why the 2005 horror film Dark Water found so appropriate a setting on New York’s Roosevelt Island. In the late 1800s, writes the author, that small chunk of land, barely 150 acres, saw four kinds of unfortunate denizens: the mad were shunted off to the island’s Lunatic Asylum, the destitute to the Almshouse, the vagrant or indigent to the Workhouse, and the seriously criminal to the Penitentiary. Each offered its own version of a living hell, and despite reports by early whistleblowers, not much was done to improve the condition of the inmates. “You can have no idea…what an immense vat of misery and crime and filth much of this great city is!” exclaimed a social reformer who worked on the island, and Horn’s account paints an exacting portrait of just how true that was—and how summary the judgments against the lower class could be. Of interest to students of Foucauldian history is the author’s contrast of what was then called Blackwell’s Island with facilities for the well-to-do, such as the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum near Central Park, with its well-appointed libraries, plush chairs, and expensive artwork. No such amenities were to be found on Blackwell’s, which saw appalling levels of disease, starvation, child mortality, and other ills. Despite such demerits, as Horn writes, the rate of escape from the island was low and the level of recidivism, particularly among younger inmates, high: “At ten the boys are thieves,” noted one official, “at fifteen the girls are all prostitutes.”

Horn engagingly explores a history that, perhaps surprisingly, extended into the 1960s, when the renamed island became a site for mixed-income housing.

Pub Date: June 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-576-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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