Thoughtful discourse on the workings of praise and blame that will be particularly helpful to readers sensitive to scrutiny.



Examination of how our inherent need for appreciation and acceptance can be sabotaged by incrimination and criticism.

Personally and professionally fascinated by relational judgments for over three decades, British psychologist Apter (Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming Their Power, 2012, etc.) explores the nature of praise and blame and how our predisposition to be judgmental of ourselves and others stems from the evolution of the human brain and the progression of interactive social discourse. The author writes that our sensitivities to praise and blame begin as infants able to “mindsight” and detect purpose and feelings in facial signals. She analyzes the importance of praise in reinforcing confidence in early child development and how it can aid in building brain circuits via the natural highs induced by oxytocin and endorphins. Apter dutifully acknowledges that teenagers can be the toughest to praise, as motivations and perceived patronization come into play, and she provides evidence with her observational research case findings. Conversely, the side effects of blame are painful and emotionally and physically burdensome for individuals of any age as well as for family members. The simple pursuit of praise and the careful avoidance of blame can be emblematic of larger social issues, Apter notes, especially in the context of social media engagement and the competitiveness between siblings or co-workers. In more thoroughly described studies, the author discusses the dynamics of friendships differentiated by gender, or how rejection, a lack of positive reinforcement, and mismanaged blame can foster infidelity in romantic couples. “The demand to be the best ushers in a cascade of anxieties,” she writes, offering an interesting assessment of the various judgment systems active in many contemporary families. In noting that “we live, day by day, in the constant company of our judgments,” Apter counsels that mindfulness and inward reflection can lessen the encumbrances of judgment.

Thoughtful discourse on the workings of praise and blame that will be particularly helpful to readers sensitive to scrutiny.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-24785-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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