Leaks, reserves, PACs, hydrofracking, bloated corporate profits and more: all pertinent concerns nicely handled by Coll in...

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EXXONMOBIL AND AMERICAN POWER

A thorough, sobering study of the pernicious consolidation of Big Oil.

With admirable restraint, New Yorker contributor and two-time Pulitzer winner Coll (The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, 2008, etc.) demonstrates how the merger of Exxon and Mobil has allowed the company to wield more power and wealth than even the American government, in the manner of John D. Rockefeller. Exxon had functioned as an independent corporate state since its antitrust break-off from Standard Oil in 1911 and was ranked by profit performance in the top five corporations from the 1950s through the end of the Cold War. With the catastrophic spill of the Valdez in Alaska in 1989, the network of secrecy and internal security within Exxon was exposed but hardly tempered. The iron chief who emerged from the crisis, Lee Raymond, reappraised risk and security within the organization and took a hard line against efforts to extract from it punitive damages. Moving the headquarters to Texas in 1993, the company retrenched in its nose-thumbing determination to encourage and supply America’s thirst for oil, casting around at more far-flung spots in the world that could provide the crude—such as where Mobil held attractive assets, in places like West Africa, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Abu Dhabi. The Exxon-Mobil merger in 1999 created a global behemoth and also provoked small wars at drilling spots where the poor and disenfranchised deeply resented foreign workers on native soil and disrupted the extraction by violence and insurgency. Raymond and his cohorts’ cynical spin on the denial of global warming and the role of the burning of fossil fuels makes for jaw-dropping reading, as does the company’s cunning manipulations of the war in Iraq to garner an oil deal. The Obama administration’s emphasis on renewable energy sources and environmental concerns has barely challenged the formidable political power of Big Oil.

Leaks, reserves, PACs, hydrofracking, bloated corporate profits and more: all pertinent concerns nicely handled by Coll in this engaging, hard-hitting work.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-335-0

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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