Suggestive but not entirely convincing. A modest addition to the popular psychology/self-help shelf.

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TOP BRAIN, BOTTOM BRAIN

SURPRISING INSIGHTS INTO HOW YOU THINK

A debunking of the popular treatments of “the alleged great [vertical] divide between the 'analytical/logical' left and 'artistic/intuitive' right halves of the human brain.”

With the assistance of novelist and Providence Journal staff writer Miller (Summer Place, 2013, etc.), Kosslyn (Behavioral Sciences/Stanford Univ.; Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations, 2008, etc.) focuses on how the cerebral cortex is organized laterally to process information. The author first looks at a 1982 study, using rhesus monkeys, which revealed how their brains utilized separate areas when they perceived the sizes and locations of objects. Trained to identify objects in order to receive rewards, their abilities were impaired differently when different areas of their brains were surgically removed. The removal of a lower section prevented them from recognizing shapes. When a top portion was taken out, they could no longer recognize positions. Kosslyn wondered about whether this top-bottom difference in the perceptual apparatus also occurred in humans. Subsequent studies by him and his colleagues showed that brain damage to stroke victims affected their perceptual abilities in a similar fashion. With the development of neuroimaging, researchers discovered that a similar top-bottom division in brain activation occurs in areas of the cortex that are involved when normal subjects visualize solutions to cognitive problems. Kosslyn takes this a step further with a schematic characterization that correlates four different cognitive modes based on “the degree to which a person relies on the top- and bottom-brain systems” when planning or solving problems and modes of social interaction. He gives the example of successful CEOs (exemplified by Michael Bloomberg) who typically show both top and bottom brain activation and are “most comfortable in positions that allow them to plan, act, and see the consequences of their actions,” compared to more impulsive individuals such as Sarah Palin, to whom he ascribes high top-brain but low bottom-brain activity. These people generate creative ideas but are poor at anticipating consequences.

Suggestive but not entirely convincing. A modest addition to the popular psychology/self-help shelf.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4510-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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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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