Ultimately, not an account that does justice to its subject.




Lackluster history of an illustrious instrument maker.

Even people who can’t tell Bach from Brahms know that Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) was the greatest violinmaker ever. Here, first-time author Faber (former managing director of Faber and Faber) gives us a brief biography of the master craftsman and a history of several instruments he created. Sources on the man himself, Faber states, are scarce, and indeed, the picture that emerges of Stradavari—hard-working, a risk-taker, “a little cheeky”—is a bit thin. Faber walks us through the creation of the instruments, step by careful step: the construction of an internal mould, the cutting of sound holes, the carving of the neck from a block of maple, etc. He then traces the history of several Strads, including the cello known as the Davidov played today by Yo-Yo Ma; the Messiah, a violin that now lives in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum; and the Lipinski, a violin that dates to 1715. Owned for several centuries by great musicians, including composer Giuseppe Tartini, the Lipinski apparently made its last concert appearance on November 30, 1942, when a Cuban violinist borrowed the instrument from its owner and performed the Glazunov concerto with the Havana Philharmonic. Last sold in 1962, the Lipinski has since dropped from sight. The narrative concludes with a rather anticlimactic summary of modern-day scientific studies of Strads (dendrochronological analysis and so forth), the even more anticlimactic reminder that “even Strads can wear out,” and a call for “a new Stradivari.” Throughout, the prose is annoyingly breathless, constantly blaring trumpets and rolling out the red carpet: “It was Girolamo’s misfortune . . . to reach adulthood at the same time as another Cremonese craftsman . . . the greatest of them all: Antonio Stradivari.” Faber’s frequent use of the first-person plural also grates (“it is our fourth violin,” “we left this violin in the possession of the Hills,” etc.); the result is an overly chummy tone.

Ultimately, not an account that does justice to its subject.

Pub Date: April 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-50848-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.


A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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