An intriguing look at how mental processes affect and alter our views—and feelings—of health and illness.

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IS IT ALL IN YOUR HEAD?

TRUE STORIES OF IMAGINARY ILLNESS

Feeling out of sorts? Take two imaginary aspirin and call us in the morning.

Trained in both neurology and clinical neurophysiology, British doctor O’Sullivan sometimes strays from both fields to enter the realm of psychology and the within-mind processes that can make an otherwise healthy person feel very sick indeed. As she writes, her early experiences came in a study of people with epilepsy who were not responding to standard treatments—not responding, it turns out, because 70 percent of them were not really suffering from epilepsy but instead from psychological troubles. “And each person I encountered had a story to tell,” she writes, “and too often that story was one of a journey through the hospital system that led them to no satisfactory understanding of what was wrong.” In all this, long-ignored standards become relevant anew, and diagnosis by way of analysis becomes ever more critical, since, as the author notes, people themselves are rather untrustworthy witnesses to and interpreters of their own experience—and “distressed, frightened people are more unreliable still.” Blending well-spun anecdote with a gently worn survey of the current medical art, O’Sullivan examines the strengths and weaknesses of approaches to psychosomatic disorders (which “are noteworthy for how little respect they have for any single part of the body”) and stress-related neuroses and illnesses, some of them rare, some of them so commonplace that we scarcely notice whether someone has them or not; some “somatic symptom disorders” happen as a result of readily identifiable trauma, but some are not obvious and even secretive. As a result, the author concludes, just as there is no single cause of psychosomatic illness, neither is there a single cure. “To look for one,” she notes, “is akin to looking for the cure for unhappiness.”

An intriguing look at how mental processes affect and alter our views—and feelings—of health and illness.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59051-795-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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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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