Some points are more provocative than convincing, but the authors put a lively spin on an age-old argument.

COOL

HOW THE BRAIN'S HIDDEN QUEST FOR COOL DRIVES OUR ECONOMY AND SHAPES OUR WORLD

A counterintuitive analysis suggesting that consumers instinctively know more about the value of the signals they are sending than their critics do.

Most books that cover this territory suggest that consumers are mere sheep, blindly led by the insidious forces of capitalism. That assumption, write Quartz (Philosophy and Cognitive Science/Caltech; co-author: Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are2002) and political scientist and communications professional Asp, is wrong. The authors’ credentials provide an indication of how much ground they cover, from a variety of perspectives that transcend conventional categorization. Perhaps the key concept concerns self-image as reflected through the perception of others: “The fact that our self-concept draws on how we think others think about us presents a tremendously intriguing possibility,” write the authors. Consumers proceed with an eye toward “how others might think of them with that product: that is, how the product might enhance their social image.” Where the measuring sticks for social image might once have been wealth and conspicuous consumption, the evolution of “cool”—from anti-materialist rejection of the bourgeoisie to dot.com mainstreaming and from bebop to beatnik to rebel to hippie to ironic hipster—has changed the signals and codes that consumers send. It shows how Harley-Davidson has gone from annual sales of around 70,000 in the early 1990s to more than 325,000 in 2005 by seeing its “consumer culture evolve from a hierarchical to a pluralistic one, a ‘mosaic of microcultures,’ ” while sales of minivans plummeted over the same period in favor of SUVs targeting the same market with a different coded message. Quartz and Asp are particularly incisive on the evolution from rebel cool to “Dotcool,” encompassing the embrace of nerdiness and hipster irony as “today’s knowledge worker is valued for his unconventionality, because originality drives innovation,” thus transcending the rebel-cool disdain for “selling out.”

Some points are more provocative than convincing, but the authors put a lively spin on an age-old argument.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-12918-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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