A useful and highly readable book of self-discipline and reflection.

HARD TO BE HUMAN

OVERCOMING OUR FIVE COGNITIVE DESIGN FLAWS

Writer and speaker Cadsby’s treatise asserts that the very traits that set humans apart from animals also cause existential and behavioral disadvantages.

The author defines five “cognitive design features” of the human brain, which he says is optimized for the primal living conditions of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. These features, which include “We’re Greedy Reductionists” and “We’re Addicted to Certainty,” become flaws in the sociocultural context of 21st-century living. He expertly outlines why humans possess these reflexive, instinctive responses to stimuli and provides actionable tips and exercises for overcoming them by embracing what he calls “The Space Between”—a self-generated mental area that separates the knee-jerk “System 1” from his proposed metacognitive powerhouse, “System 2.” Cadsby notes the Buddhist notion that the human experience is predicated on suffering but asserts that “our ultimate freedom lies in our metacogni­tive ability to pause and reflect before we respond.” In these pages, he walks readers through the System 1 defaults, offering a mix of simple, concrete solutions and more labor-intensive mental exercises to help overcome them; the latter range from taking deep breaths to restructuring the way one approaches difficult decisions to ultimately redefining one’s search for meaning: “We are not designed to live free of existential anxiety,” he states, because, despite ourselves, “we are the species that ruminates, causing us no end of uniquely human suffering.” The book effectively doubles as a crash-course in philosophy, delving generally into the ideas of such foundational thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Carl Jung, Daniel Kahneman, and Steven Pinker. Cadsby does an excellent job summarizing and making connections between interrelated philosophies and subsequently grounding his own assertions on these theories to construct a consistent and cohesive game plan. Although his conclusions and techniques may not be new, his presentation is creative and informative, restructuring classic ideas into accessible advice.

A useful and highly readable book of self-discipline and reflection.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4597-4884-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dundurn Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2021

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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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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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