THE OPTIMISM BIAS

A TOUR OF THE IRRATIONALLY POSITIVE BRAIN

Our mind deceives us by parking rose-colored glasses on our nose, writes neuroscientist Sharot, but only with the best of intentions.

In this lively, conversational book, the author puts on firm footing what many of us have sensed all along—that we are, by and large, a pretty optimistic bunch. Indeed, “optimism may be so essential to our survival that it is hardwired into our most complex organ, the brain.” So prevalent are these optimistic tendencies that they compose a bias, a steady inclination to overestimate the likelihood of encountering more positive events in the future than negative ones. The optimism bias protects us from being stymied by the inevitable tribulations of everyday life, or to perceive that our options are limited in some manner; it helps us relax, improves our health and motivates us to act. Sharot is a friendly writer—her book brims with anecdotes and scientific studies that attest to optimism’s gentling hand—though no empty smiley face: There is plenty in these pages about how we cope with root canals and chemotherapy, disappointment and dread. Sharot presents this evolutionary scenario: “an ability to imagine the future had to develop side by side with positive biases. The knowledge of death had to emerge at the same time as its irrational denial…It is this coupling—conscious prospection and optimism—that underlies the extraordinary achievements of the human species.” Otherwise, considering the future would be paralyzing. The author circulates through much of the optimism/pessimism map, touching down on the importance of control, relativity and anticipation. What is most stunning, however, are the ways in which optimism not only evokes new behavior in the individual (optimistic heart-attack victim modeling healthy new behavior), but helps deliver the irrationally expected goods (Joe Namath guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III).

 

Pub Date: June 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-37848-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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