Long-winded, but well-reasoned: a provocative, useful aid in understanding the ongoing debate on human development.

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THE FIRST IDEA

HOW SYMBOLS, LANGUAGE, AND INTELLIGENCE EVOLVED FROM OUR PRIMATE ANCESTORS TO MODERN HUMANS

Two psychologists team up for a thorough, fairly readable study of cognitive development from earliest hominids to humans, placing strenuous emphasis on emotional interaction between infant and caregiver outlined in Greenspan's The Growth of the Mind (1997).

Greenspan (Psychiatry and Pediatrics/George Washington Univ.) and Shanker (Philosophy and Psychology/York Univ., Canada) stress that the human capacity to think, which they define as the ability to regulate emotions in the use of logic and reflection, stems primarily from the acquirement of mother-infant signaling transmitted through cultural care-giving practices. After setting out the crucial stages of a child's functional/emotional growth, the authors venture back into evolutionary history to debunk some determinist theories of human cognitive development that stress the innate, universal necessities of human biology (natural selection) while ignoring the essential and, in humans, relatively long period of close nurturing between caregiver and infant. Shanker offers observations of language acquisition in chimps and bonobos, gained from his work with primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (Apes, Language, and the Human Mind, not reviewed); there is also a fascinating chapter on emotional “derailment” in autistic children. The authors revisit problem-solving and early communication in archaic Homo sapiens and early moderns, comparing their stage of cognitive development to childhood in today’s humans. With the relatively sudden ascent of the new species of humans during the Pleistocene era, technological advances took off; yet here the authors emphasize rather a “slow and almost orderly process” that involved an enrichment of emotional signaling accompanied by beneficial physical changes in the face and skull (loss of facial hair, for example, encouraged a vastly more subtle and complex repertory of expressions). Greenspan and Shanker duly note the work of numerous other authors and scientists, such as Piaget, Chomsky, and E.T. Hall. Along the way, the study grows unwieldy and repetitive as they take on shared values of societies and “global interdependency.”

Long-winded, but well-reasoned: a provocative, useful aid in understanding the ongoing debate on human development.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7382-0680-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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