A traumatic event can have positive effects, writes the author, by jolting us into valuing friends and families more and being less concerned with ephemeral pleasures.

Joseph (Psychology/Univ. of Nottingham; Post-traumatic Stress, 2010, etc.) is a proponent of positive psychology. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during the height of that country’s political violence, he has had firsthand experience of the effects of traumatic events. At the time, the author was drawn to tales of superheroes who stood up to violence and made the world a better place. In his professional capacity, he has treated trauma victims beginning with survivors of the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise shipwreck, in which 193 out of 500 passengers were killed. Joseph also draws on a wealth of historical sources such as the writings of Holocaust survivors to substantiate his critique of the current definition of PTSD. In his opinion, while the diagnostic term was valuable in calling attention to the disorder during the Vietnam War, increased broadening of the criteria to include relatively trivial events such as the defeat of a favorite football team and reliance on medication to treat PTSD are problematic, especially since statistics show that the majority of those suffering genuine trauma do not develop full-blown PTSD. Joseph believes that misdiagnoses can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and he suggests that those who do experience full-blown PTSD may benefit by becoming more resilient in confronting and mastering adversity. They may even experience greater happiness in the long run. Conversely, “swallowing a magic pill” to alleviate psychological distress may stand in the way of “an existential journey to a richer life.” A sure-to-be-controversial, provocative challenge to prevailing wisdom on how to deal with stress.


Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-465-01941-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011



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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011


Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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