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RETHINK

THE SURPRISING HISTORY OF NEW IDEAS

There’s not much that’s new here, but that’s the point. A modest, enjoyable look at the care and feeding of creativity.

When seeking inspiration, Guardian columnist Poole (Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How that Message Becomes Reality, 2006, etc.) writes, it’s not a bad idea to sift through the junk pile for second thoughts.

How does inspiration happen, and how can it be leveraged into reality? That question has nourished a stream of self-help, psychology, and business literature on creativity and its capture, including books such as Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From (2011) and Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind (2014). In this lightly written narrative, Poole looks at a number of case studies that show how actionable new ideas are often reiterations of old ones. For instance, the modern electric car draws on 150-year-old technology, while medical treatments using maggots and leeches stretch back hundreds of years. “The story of human understanding is not a gradual, stately accumulation of facts, a smooth transition from ignorance to knowledge,” he writes. “It’s…a wild roller-coaster ride full of loops and switchbacks.” Those old ideas need not even be good ones, since merely examining them can prompt better ones, and of course not all old ideas are good. In this respect, Poole conjures up the 19th-century craze for big-game hunting and then invites us to consider what happened to the dentist who recently shot a beloved lion. Some of the author’s examples run a little long, as with his extensive discussion of how placebo drugs came into being; still, his extension of the placebo effect into other realms is interesting, as are his musings on the political applications of old ideas such as basic income and governance by peers rather than professional politicians. More than a compendium of anecdotes about the forerunners of the Tesla car or the sideways history of Viagra, Poole’s book is a jog on how to think, closing with exhortations to make a little room for the absurd and to “abandon common sense and bet against the market.”

There’s not much that’s new here, but that’s the point. A modest, enjoyable look at the care and feeding of creativity.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4560-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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